Vinegar Syndrome, the DVD label that specializes in rescuing obscure cult movies from oblivion, has released another grindhouse triple feature of 1970s erotica. All three features, contained on two DVDs, are hardcore and all recall period of time when, in order to see such fare, you had to sheepishly pay to enter a porn theater, hoping that anyone of influence in your life who might see you would be sitting in the audience themselves. Watching these oldies but goodies today, one is impressed by the fact that, even within the limited boundaries of the meager production values, some real attempts were made to tell legitimate stories. In that respect, the X rated feature films differed from the "loops", which merely consisted of ten minute reels in which everyone had to get down to business as quickly as possible.
The first film in this triple feature is "Cry for Cindy", which starred Amber Hunt, a pouty, baby-faced beauty who evidently made a bit of a splash when the film was made in 1976 (it begins with a placard thanking Hustler publisher Larry Flint for bringing his top centerfold to the attention of producers.) Hunt plays Cindy, a young woman who is living the high life in L.A. She drives an expensive car, lives in a luxurious apartment and even gets to fly private planes. However, the down side is that all of this is financed by her career as a high end hooker. The film delves into her psychological dilemma: she's addicted to her lifestyle but is increasingly appalled at how she earns it. She is used and abused by a brutal pimp who reminds her that he can toss her out into the street on a whim. Consequently, she becomes his personal sex slave. Her two best friends are more accepting of their fate as hookers. In a flashback sequence, we see how Cindy started as an innocent hair stylist who was helping to finance her boyfriend's way through medical school. Faced with insurmountable debt, she is lured into the life of a hooker without ever divulging this to her lover, who thinks she is suddenly earning big money by modelling. Cindy never warms to going to bed with unattractive men but learns to be the best in her profession, thus making herself a valuable commodity. As the story progresses, however, she becomes more depressed, leading to a rather somber and unexpected development. "Cry for Cindy" is quite ambitious in many respects: it shows a feminine point of view towards sexual exploitation, admittedly even while the actresses are sexually exploiting themselves. The script is literate and interesting and - dare I say it?- the acting is impressive for this genre. The sex scenes leave nothing to the imagination and are erotically filmed and the production values are fairly high, with numerous location sequences and even an original love song written for the opening credits. The film ranks high among the grindhouse sex flicks of the era. (The DVD set also contains a more mainstream, soft-core cut of the film).
"Touch Me" is another attempt to combine a literate script with hardcore sex. Filmed in 1971, the low-budget production is set in an institute where various young people have assembled to discuss and try to resolve their sexual issues. The setting is the private home of the doctor who administers the therapies, which seems to be an opening for low-brow comedy. Yet, the script plays it straight, offering fully developed characterizations and a cast that can actually act (even if the "doctor" is of the rather stiff, pre-"Airplane" Leslie Nielsen method school). The characters span such a spectrum of varying personalities with varying problems that you half expect to see Irwin Allen's name as producer. There's the guy who is insecure about his penis size. There's another guy who harbors rape fantasies. There's a bickering couple and a wife who is rather frigid- and of course, the prerequisite lesbian who feels compelled to get "cured" but ends up adding a few numbers of straight women to her black book. The sex here is more clinical-both cinematically and in a literal sense- as everyone learns to shed their inhibitions and express and enact their wildest fantasies. As with "Cry for Cindy", "Touch Me" is a very obvious attempt to present an erotic film that might be more appealing to female viewers. The dialogue is intelligent and the cast is talented enough to suspect some of them might have found legitimate success in the profession.
Rounding out the triple feature is "Act of Confession", a 1972 film that starts out as ambitiously as the other two entries in the set. The film opens with a rather poignant overview of the miserable conditions most people lived in during the Middle Ages. A narrator points out how particularly rough it was for women, who were mostly consigned to a slave-life existence as the wife of a peasant. Consequently, many young women sought refuge in convents, not particularly because of religious conviction, but simply to escape the drudgery of back-breaking daily life on a farm. The premise is fine and one wishes the producers had stuck with simply providing a documentary about the Middle Ages. However, sex is the name of the game here and we are soon introduced to a young nun who develops some nasty habits in the convent, getting it on with the other sisters as well as the most fortunate priest and altar boy in Europe. In what is undoubtedly the most controversial sequence, she is seduced by Jesus Christ, so if you're still griping about that old Scorsese film, here's a new one you can protest. Unlike the other two films in this set, this entry is about as erotic as a catechism class, with a leading lady so lifeless that the sex scenes border on necrophilia.
Although the films credit aliases for their directors, the DVD sleeve indicates they were actually all helmed by one Anthony Spinelli, who apparently was a legend in the industry back in the day- and improbably, was the brother of noted character actor Jack Weston. Spinelli's work is several notches above the norm for this genre and Vinegar Syndrome presents crisp, clean remastered transfers. Whether these types of films appeal to you or not, they do offer an undeniable cinematic time capsule into an era when the industry was shaking off the constraints of repressive censorship that had dominated popular culture for the entire century. I'd call this an impressive package, but given the subject matter, it would sound too much like a stale joke.
Many books have been written about
Hollywood Westerns. After 45 years, the
late William K. Everson’s “A Pictorial History of the Western Film” (The
Citadel Press, 1969) remains one of the best: a coffee-table book with
substance. Everson appropriately tips
his sombrero to John Ford, John Wayne, Henry Hathaway, and Howard Hawks (with
measured praise for “Red River”), and his comments on films spanning the history of the genre up to the
end of the 1960s, from “The Great Train Robbery” (1903) to “The Wild Bunch”
(1969), are incisive and thought-provoking. As a film scholar and preservationist, Everson was particularly
knowledgeable about older and often obscure movies from the silent and early
sound eras. Three of the classic titles
he highlights are worthy of his approval and deserve to be better known than
King Vidor’s “Billy the Kid” (1930) is slow
going at times, particularly if you’re accustomed to the frantic pace of modern
action movies. Nevertheless, as the
first major Hollywood dramatization of the Billy the Kid story, adapted from
Walter Noble Burns’ 1925 book, it’s certainly worth seeing. Everson praises the spare quality of the
deliberately tried to avoid the traditional MGM gloss; the photography is good,
but always naturalistic, the characters drab in their dress, the buildings
ramshackle, the streets dusty. It is a
long film and a slow one, with its main action sequence placed in the middle of
the film, so that it doesn’t even build to a climax as most Westerns do. Its script is frankly untidy, yet the film is
quite certainly the best and most convincing of all the Billy the Kid sagas.
is right about Vidor’s strikingly stark style, including Vidor’s use of rugged
outdoor scenes in which massive buttes and caves dwarf the actors, but he’s
wrong about the movie not building to a climax. Actually it does, although the dramatic climax isn’t the final
confrontation between Billy (Johnny Mack Brown) and Pat Garrett (Wallace
Beery!), that you might expect from 80 years of Billy the Kid cinema, and maybe
as Everson expected. It’s an emotional
climax instead of a violent climax: the next-to-last scene in the movie, in
which Billy, on the run, tries to keep his sweetheart Claire (Kay Johnson) from
sticking with him by telling her that he doesn’t love her, although it’s
poignantly clear to the viewer that he does. Vidor, Brown, and Johnson stage the scene with great tenderness.
Spoiler alert: there isn’t much of a
resolution between Billy and Garrett. The two never really face off, as you’d expect from other movies like
“The Left-Handed Gun” (1958) and “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” (1973), which
remain marginally truer to historical fact. Just after the Kid returns to the heartbroken Claire and confesses that he really does
care, Garrett lets the outlaw ride away with her to freedom and a happy
future. Beery may seem an unlikely
choice to play Pat Garrett (although not the oddest: that would be Thomas
Mitchell in “The Outlaw” from 1946) , but the role is crafted to the actor’s
usual image as a soft-hearted roughneck, so it isn’t as clumsy a fit as you
From Billy the Kid to the O.K. Corral:
Everson called Edward L. Cahn’s “Law and Order” (1932) “[one] of the sound era’s most overlooked Westerns (and
one of its finest).” Walter Huston and
Harry Carey Sr. are terrific as Frame Johnson -- “the killin’est marshal in the West” -- and shotgun-toting gambler Ed
Brandt in this lean, black-and-white movie based on W.R. Burnett’s novel “Saint
Johnson,” with John Huston credited for “adaptation and dialogue.” Johnson (a thinly disguised Wyatt Earp), his
brother Lute, Brandt (the Doc Holliday of the story), and their pard Deadwood
drift into lawless Tombstone, where the rustling Northrup brothers ride
roughshod. The town fathers offer
Johnson the job of peace officer.
“Nope, I’m done with that,” the flinty Johnson says at
first. “All it’s gotten me is a trail of
dead men and a heap of enemies.” The
locals cagily change his mind by playing on his pride: “Pin Northrup’s bet a
thousand dollars that you won’t go up agin’ em.”
The dialogue is hardboiled, almost the only women-folk
in sight are the saloon floozies, and the script establishes a bleak,
fatalistic tone early on. Drifting,
Johnson and his companions match cards on the trail to determine whether to go
to Alkali or Tombstone; Brandt offhandedly votes for Tombstone and draws the
winning hand -- aces over eights, the cards that Wild Bill Hickok held when he
was murdered by Jack McCall. The
real-life events of the feud between the Earps and the Ike Clanton gang are
rearranged here so that the shootings and shotgun ambushes lead up to rather
than follow the showdown inside the “O.K. Barn,” staged by Cahn as a brutal,
running gunbattle around hay bales and horse stalls. A gangster movie from the same year, “The
Beast of the City,” co-scripted by W.R. Burnett and starring Walter Huston, ended
with the same sort of last-ditch, straight-up shootout between cops led by
Huston and mobsters led by Jean Hersholt as a gang lord modeled on Al Capone.
Zane Grey’s “Riders of the Purple Sage” (1912) has
been filmed at least five times. Everson
singled out the 1941 version, directed by James Tinling and starring George
Montgomery, as “that rare animal, a remake superior to at least some of its
predecessors. In less than an hour, it
packed in all of Grey’s complicated plot, managed to prevent the unusually
large number of characters from getting in each other’s way, offered plenty of
action and good locations and photography.” Montgomery as vengeance-driven gunman Jim Lassiter makes an impressive
entrance. Dressed all in black, he
prevents a gang of crooked vigilantes from whipping an innocent man by shooting
the whip in two. “You’re interferin’
with justice, stranger,” the ringleader snarls. “Takin’ a whip to a man ain’t justice,” Lassiter snaps back.
Grey’s novel villainized Mormons, led by the corrupt
Bishop Dyer, but the movie sidesteps religious controversy: in this version,
Dyer is a greedy judge (Robert Barrat) who attemps to intimidate Jane (Mary
Howard), a young ranch owner, into signing her property over to him. The judge’s main henchman is his son Adam,
played by Kane Richmond, whom pulp movie fans may remember better as the Spy
Smasher and the Shadow. Montgomery
anchors the film with conviction and charisma, and as Everson noted, William
Bruckner’s and Robert F. Metzler’s script keeps the gunfights, fistfights, and
chases coming at a rapid clip. This is a
movie that combines the simplicity and verve of the B-Western with the
accomplished acting and outdoor production values of an A-production.
“Law and Order” and “Riders of the Purple Sage” are
available in DVD-R editions on the collector’s market, and “Billy the Kid” has
been released on DVD-R by the Warner Archive Collection. For their quality and historical value, I
think all three films deserve proper restoration on Blu-ray and DVD, and I
suspect that William K. Everson would have agreed.
(the following review is of
the UK release of the film, on Region 2 format)
Behind the Lace Curtain: Soviet Spies in
Robert Tronson’s ‘Ring of Spies’
(aka ‘Ring of Treason’) is the 1964 film version of the true-life Portland Spy
Ring case. From the late 1950s until 1961 the five-strong ring passed secrets
to the Soviets from the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment at Portland
in Dorset, ‘the most hush-hush joint in the country’. Bernard Lee – who is best
known for his role as James Bond’s M, played Harry Houghton, an ex-naval
officer who is shipped back from his post in Warsaw following a drunken
incident at an embassy party. Houghton is posted as a clerk at the secret naval
base at Portland and is approached by an agent from ‘the other side’ who
convinces him to commit treason and steal them ‘a few titbits’. Houghton befriends
his co-worker, Elizabeth Gee (played by Margaret Tyzack), whom Harry calls
‘Bunty’. In reality spinster Gee’s first name was Ethel. Pleased with
Houghton’s attention and fuss, the two begin courting and Houghton convinces
her to take ‘Top Secret’ documents from the safe. Gee thinks she’s helping US
intelligence to keep tabs on the Royal Navy, but their contact in London,
Gordon Lonsdale, is actually a Soviet agent.
Lonsdale (played by William
Sylvester, later of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’), masquerades as a jukebox dealer
in London, but in reality he takes the ‘borrowed’ documentation to antiquarian
bookseller Peter Kroger (David Kossoff) and his wife Helen. There, behind the
lace curtains at their bungalow at 45 Cranley Drive, Ruislip, Middlesex – inconspicuously
nestled in suburbia – the pilfered secrets are photographed, documented, then
sent behind the Iron Curtain, reduced to diminutive microdots which are hidden
as full stops in such collectable books as ‘Songs of Innocence’ by William
Blake. Houghton and Gee become wealthy for their sins, buying a bungalow and a
new Zodiac car. But their boozing and conspicuous generosity in local pubs
attracts attention. The police and secret service calculate that their joint
£30-a-week incomes don’t match their extravagant lifestyle. Their home is
bugged by an agent posing as a gasman and the spy ring’s full extent begins to
Anyone interested in rare
1960s British cinema and low-fi monochrome espionage is in for a treat with
this engrossing rendition of a fascinating true story. Told with the minimum of
flash and no distracting score (the only music is from record players, or odd
atonal data electronica) ‘Ring of Spies’ deserves to be better known. Bernard
Lee is well cast as the hard-drinking Houghton, who feels the world owes him
something and has no loyalty to ‘Queen and Country’, in sharp contrast to his M
character in the 007 films. Tyzack and Sylvester are also ideal for the roles
of timid spinster and ice-cold spymaster. The supporting cast is good, with Thorley
Walters as Houghton’s cheery commander, Winters, and familiar faces such as
Paul Eddington and Geoffrey Palmer present in the background. Edwin Apps plays
Blake, ‘a minor cog in the Middle East department’. One of my favourite 1960s
actresses, Justine Lord (Sonia in ‘The Girl Who Was Death’ spy spoof episode of
‘The Prisoner’) appears early in the film, as Christina, Harry’s lover in
Warsaw. Gillian Lewis played Harry and Bunty’s co-worker Marjorie Shaw, whose
beauty has earned her ‘Runner up, Miss Lyme Regis’. The realistic settings and
authentic filming locations – Chesil Beach, various London tube stations, the
Round Pond in Kensington Palace Gardens, the magnificent roof garden at the top
of Derry and Toms department store on Kensington High Street – ensure the story
is always interesting and the monochrome cinematography adds docu-realism to
the action. Interiors were shot on sets at Shepperton Studios.
Don’t expect 007, nor even
Harry Palmer, but the film’s depiction of low-key, cloak and dagger espionage
is edgily exciting, as the spies are tailed on English country roads and
suburbia by British agents disguised as builders, ‘News of the World’ newspaper
van drivers and nuns. This is a must for fans of 1960s Cold War spy cinema. The
story proves that fact is often much stranger than fiction. In reality, after
being sentenced to 15 years in prison each, Houghton and Gee were released in
1970 and married the following year.
This DVD release is part of
Network’s ‘The British Film’ collection, a five-year project to release over
450 British films via a deal with Studiocanal. The project commenced in April
2013. ‘Ring of Spies’ is from British Lion and includes the original trailer (a
‘U’ rated trailer advertising an ‘A’ certificate film) and a gallery of publicity
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM AMAZON UK AND TO VIEW ORIGINAL TRAILER
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Mass. — Sept. 2, 2014 — For Immediate Release — Long-time film industry veteran Philip Elliott Hopkins announces the
launch of The Film Detective, which
distributes broadcast-quality, digitally remastered, classic programming for
television, DVD, Blu-ray, VOD and other digital platforms.
Hopkins plans to release 10-20 DVDs and Blu-rays each
month – as well as syndicate
worldwide through broadcast, VOD and all leading movie portals – beginning Sept. 4.
Additionally, the Massachusetts-based
company plans to launch a classic movie subscription service
on a VOD platform, featuring a veteran movie host, later in the fall (More
details coming soon).
Film Detective’s extensive library of more than 3,000 titles – which includesfeature films, television programming, foreign imports,
documentaries– are now being re-mastered for today’s
new media. All titles are transferred from original film elements and many will be
restored in HD. With original artwork
available for most titles, all releases will be available worldwide with
region-free DVD and Blu-ray release.
The initial slate of titles to be released
Bucket of Blood (1959), Angel and the Badman (1947), Beat the Devil (1953), Carnival of Souls (1962), D.O.A. (1950), Dementia 13 (1963), Dick Tracy’s Dilemma (1947), Go
for Broke (1951), Kansas City Confidential (1952), Love
Affair (1939), My Favorite Brunette (1947), My
Man Godfrey (1936), Night of the Living Dead (1968), Nothing Sacred (1937), Salt of the Earth (1954), Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942), Sherlock Homes: Dressed to Kill
(1946), Smash Up: The Story of a Woman (1947), The
Big Lift (1950), The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962), The
Inspector General (1949), The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), The
Red House (1947), The Stranger (1946) and The Terror (1963).
Hopkins entered home video entertainment
in 1999 as vice president of Marango Films, an early home video distributor of
classic movies. He co-founded Film Chest in 2002, supplying a broad array of
broadcasters including Turner Classic Movies and American Movie
Classics, and home video companies including
VCI and Image Entertainment with classic films over
the next 11 years.
Commented Hopkins, “I’m thrilled to be launching an
exciting new initiative and look forward to bringing new life to many classics that
deserve to be restored and remastered. Our goal is to build an extensive
resource online for classic film enthusiasts and to develop a social media
network to communicate with fans around the world.”
British noir crime dramas of the Fifties go, The House Across the Lake (1954) is probably as good an example as
you could hope to dip into. The tale unfolds in flashback, related by our main
protagonist to another character (precisely who is not revealed until the final
reel), is embroidered with expositional narration and, though clichéd and not
in the least unpredictable, delivers atmosphere by the barrel.
film is an early entry on the CV of writer-director Ken Hughes (the arguable highpoints
of whose career, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
and Cromwell, remain perennial favourites,
whilst his latter-day offerings, Night
School and Sextette, are best
brushed under the proverbial carpet). Hughes scripted The House Across the Lake from his own source novel, “High Wray”,
and also commandeered the director’s chair. Nowadays understandably marketed as
a Hammer film, it’s actually the fruit of the company’s earlier incarnation
Exclusive Films. Nevertheless, it boasts enough familiar names from the
company’s later glory years to set Hammer fans’ pulses racing: Anthony Hinds
produced, Jimmy Sangster AD’d, Len Harris and Harry Oakes were among the camera
operators, Phil Leakey was on make-up duty and James Needs edited.
the height of a sultry summer, American author Mark Kendrick (Alex Nicol) has
rented a remote lakeside bungalow in which he hopes to overcome a bout of
writer’s block. After doing a favour for his neighbours from – you guessed it –
the house across the lake, Kendrick befriends the affluent but ailing Beverly
Kendrick (Sidney James). It’s transparent from the outset that tensions are
running high between Forrest and his younger trophy wife, serial adulteress
Carol (Hillary Brooke). With his writing career plummeting, Kendrick is
desperately short of money, so when an opportunity presents itself for Carol to
dispose of her husband, he is easily coaxed into complicity for a cut of her
inheritance. After all, Forrest is a dying man anyway – why not give nature a
little chivvy along?
a short, sharp 66-minutes, The House
Across the Lake is an entertaining little film and offers up solid
performances from its three leads. Whilst Nicol and Brooke were doubtless
drafted in to drum up interest Stateside (where the film was released with the
re-titling Heat Wave), the presence
of Sid James – yes, the aforementioned Sidney is indeed he in an early straight
role – will certainly be the key draw for Brit movie buffs.
has been issued on DVD in the UK as part of “The British Movie” collection – an
arm of Network Distributing – in a new digital transfer. Hammer completists
will snap this one up (indeed, due to Sid James’ participation, so will “Carry
On” completists), but it deserves to find a home with a broader audience and
hopefully with this worthy release it will do. The disc also includes a trailer
and a small gallery of poster art and lobby cards.
this reviewer, Terry-Thomas’s turn as dastardly Raymond Delauney in the 1960 Brit-com
School for Scoundrels remains one of
his finest. The actor’s effervescent personality gelled perfectly with the
penmanship of Stephen Potter to create an egotistical chauvinist you couldn’t
help but take a liking to. Just a year later, in 1961’s His and Hers, his portrayal of a similar cad is one of his weaker
turns and rapidly becomes tiresome. It’s all in the writing, folks.
His and Hers was the
penultimate film from Brian Desmond Hurst, whose moment in the sun was the
sterling 1951 adaptation of “A Christmas Carol”, featuring Alistair Sim in the
title role of Scrooge. Hurst, along
with writers Jan and Mark Lowell and Stanley Mann, hailed from a background in screen
drama, so comely was not the likeliest genre for them to tackle. The lukewarm
results are testimony to their folly.
adventurer – and author of the hugely successful “I Conquered…” series of books
– Reggie Blake (Terry-Thomas) returns from his latest escapade in the Sahara.
His past expeditions have all been stage-managed by his canny publisher Charles
Dunton (Wilfred Hyde-White); the sharks he fought in the Atlantic were rubber,
the igloo he inhabited in the Arctic had central heating. But this time the set-up
went wrong and so for his new book Reggie wants to do away with the fiction and
tell it as it really was. The problem is it’s boring. When Reggie adopts a
pompous stance and threatens to take the manuscript elsewhere, it causes
friction with both his wife Fran (Janette Scott) and Dunton. Shrewdly aware
that the public is eager for a new “I Conquered…” epic, Dunton conspires with
Fran to pretend to write a book
exposing her husband’s faux adventures – “I Was Conquered by a Middle-aged
Monster” – in the hope it’ll coax Reggie into delivering a book that will actually
sell. But Reggie proves more stubborn than either of them expects…
much hilarity ensues”, as they say. Except in the case of His and Hers, it doesn’t. As previously mentioned, Terry-Thomas’s
character isn’t very likeable. Unfortunately, rather damningly, neither are
Hyde-White’s or Scott’s. They’re all
objectionable. Thus the intended humour as husband and wife divide up their
house into “his” and “hers” areas falls flat. Their struggles to adapt to their
new roles – he on all levels of domesticity, she in her attempts to immerse
herself in the business of authorship – seldom elicit more than a tepid smile.
what are we left with? Not a lot. It there’s any fun to be derived here, it’s
in the form of a myriad of cameos from favourites of the big and small screen.
Kenneth Connor, Oliver Reed, Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Marie Deveraux,
Francesca Annis, Joan Hickson – even a youthful William Roach – have all put in
appearances by the time the end credits roll. These cameos certainly lend His and Hers curiosity value, but
there’s regrettably little else for which one could recommend it.
a constituent in their “The British Film” collection, Network Distributing in
the UK have just released the film on DVD and (incredulously, given its
mediocre value) Blu-Ray too, though to be fair the crisp black and white print
is pristine. The only supplement offered is a short gallery of original FOH stills.
Mel Brooks' 1968 comedy classic The Producers was originally deemed unreleasable because of its tasteless content. It sat on a shelf for two years before finally seeing the light of day. When the movie hit theaters, critics praised it, Brooks won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and helped launch a major career for him in feature films. By 1974, tastelessness was not a barrier for Brooks' cinematic projects. Blazing Saddles, his insane send-up of the Western movie genre, came along at exactly the right time. Ten years earlier, the film would have been impossible to make. However, pop culture had matured light years between the mid-1960s and 1970s and so did audience's tolerance of envelope-pushing humor. Indeed, by the time Brooks brought this movie to the screen Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice had already shown the humorous side of swinging and Robert Altman's M*A*S*H made the Korean War a thinly-veiled, over-the-top comedic roasting of the seemingly endless conflict in Vietnam. Nevertheless, Brooks still had plenty of new ways to bring tasteless comedy to new highs (or lows). The "plot line" of Blazing Saddles is razor-thin. Cleavon Little is Bart, a hip black man who is tired of being used as a beast of burden by racist white employers. Through a plot device (don't ask!), he assumes the identity of a new sheriff of a small town. The reaction of the crowd and politicians when they realize their new law enforcement officer is a black man is still priceless in its hilarity. The sheriff encounters a wide variety of local eccentrics including Jim (Gene Wilder), an amiable gunslinger who assists him in thwarting a stock company of local bad guys.
As Brooks points out in a new interview in the set, Blazing Saddles is timeless. Indeed, it feels as fresh and funny today as it did in 1974. However, no one would ever dare make such a film today. In an industry preoccupied with "safe" concepts such as stupid movies about monsters and aliens, it would be all but impossible to find financing for a film that uses "nigger" as a punch line to every other joke. Forget the fact that it's the white racists who end up getting the short end of every stick and it's the black hero who is the only handsome, intelligent character in the story- the very concept would be deemed far too toxic for public consumption. However, we at least have Blazing Saddles to remind us of an era in which filmmakers and studios dared to gore sacred cows. The result was a period that saw some of the greatest achievements in the history of the medium. In terms of maturity, however, the industry has only regressed over the ensuing decades.
Warner Brothers has put together a Blu-ray that is appropriately packed with extras, most of which have been carried over from previous releases. These include a 2001 documentary in which Brooks and Wilder are interviewed separately about the making of the film and its legacy. Brooks originally wanted Richard Pryor, who co-wrote the script, to star as Bart but the comedian's erratic personal behavior scared the studio bosses. At one point Flip Wilson was considered for the role before Cleavon Little "wowed" Brooks in his audition. John Wayne was even asked to make a cameo appearance but the Duke correctly assumed that his audience wouldn't be very happy about his appearance in a movie laced with obscene jokes. There are also anecdotes about the sterling supporting cast of character actors including the inimitable Slim Pickens. Also interviewed is the late, great Harvey Korman, who comes close to dominating the film with a truly hilarious performance. Writer Andrew Bergman relates how amazed he was when Warner Brothers actually bought his script for the film, which he wrote on "spec". The set provides a new documentary in which Brooks is interviewed anew (he immodestly calls the film the greatest comedy ever made) and Gene Wilder is seen in recent footage from an interview at New York's 92nd Street "Y". There are also some interesting scenes that were deleted from the final print but which were apparently included in TV broadcasts of the movie. Most interesting is the half hour pilot episode of a proposed TV series from 1975 titled Black Bart with Louis Gossett Jr. playing the Cleavon Little role. Gossett is well-cast but the show is a lame concoction of weak racially-based jokes and cheap production values. It's inclusion here is most appreciated, however, for curiosity's sake alone. Rounding out the bonus extras are the original trailer, an audio commentary by Mel Brooks and a set of postcards with scenes and jokes from the film.
It must have seemed like a sure bet to adapt Elmore Leonard's book The Moonshine War into a film way back in 1970. MGM, then struggling to stay afloat, even signed Leonard to write the screenplay. The end result, however, is a mixed bag despite the impressive talent involved in the production. The movie is now regarded as a long-forgotten flop, the failure of which seemed to be ensured by a bizarre ad and poster campaign that featured an image of a generic hillbilly with a shotgun rather than emphasizing the cast. The film is set in rural Kentucky during the Prohibition era. Frank Long (Patrick McGoohan) is a corrupt federal agent who is ostensibly in the area to search out and destroy local stills. In fact, he is intent on finding the hidden liquor stash of Son Martin (Alan Alda), the reigning local kingpin of illicit booze. His intention is to force Martin to partner with him. When his hard-edged efforts fail to intimidate Martin, Long decides to call in two confederates- Dr. Emmett Taulbee (Richard Widmark), who uses his profession as a dentist to cover his gangster activities and Dual Matters (songwriter and singer Lee Hazlewood), his sadistic right hand man. Long's intention is to use some additional strongarm tactics to get Son to divulge the location of his still. However, Taubee -and especially Dual- prove to be bloodthirsty killers and their tactics result in torture and murder. Before long, Taulbee concedes even he needs reinforcements, despite the fact that the cowardly locals won't lift a finger to assist Son in his besieged cabin. Soon a small army of killers has descended on the property. This is too much even for Long, who sides with Son and his only ally, his farm hand Adam (legendary blues singer Joe Williams) who have only a few guns and their wits to stave off certain death.
The Moonshine War never reaches its full potential, though the eclectic cast makes it worth viewing. Richard Quine's direction is rather limp and uninspired and the central role of Son Martin is miscast with Alda in the lead. He doesn't seem remotely convincing as a hillbilly and gives a rather boring, half-hearted performance. Fortunately, the other cast members are a lot more lively with Widmark playing against type as an outrageous villain. He's in a perpetually jolly mood even when ordering the execution of innocents and he is accompanied by an Eva Braun-like dumb hooker, Miley (Susanne Zenor), who seems oblivious to the carnage being caused by her "beau". The real scene-stealer, perhaps improbably, is non-actor Lee Hazelwood, whose demented and murderous hit man is a truly chilling screen presence. McGoohan, who is also somewhat miscast, is never less than riveting to watch no matter what role he plays and there is a deft supporting turn by Will Geer in traditional Grandpa Walton mode.
Elmore Leonard's screenplay is somewhat erratic, ranging from cornpone country humor to outright sadism. Not helping matters is the inclusion of upbeat country western standards, a gimmick that seems inspired by the Bonnie and Clyde soundtrack. Here, however, the result seems more inappropriate than artistically inspired. Nevertheless, I enjoyed The Moonshine War for what it is- a consistently engrossing, entertaining vehicle that seemed to be custom made for the drive-in circuit of the era. Oh, and the final scene does pack an unexpected wallop.
maybe for Michael Caine and Ernest Borgnine, has any other actor ever starred
in more movies, ranging more widely from classic (“A Star Is Born,” “North by
Northwest,” “Lolita”) to cult (“The Pumpkin Eater,” “Cross of Iron”), to the
campy and B-level titles that partially rounded out the final two decades of
his career (“Bad Man’s River,” “Mandingo”),
than James Mason (1909-1984)?
releases from the Warner Archive Collection showcase Mason’s versatility in
mid-career films that could hardly be farther apart in theme and subject
Decks Ran Red” (1958) was one of Mason’s two collaborations with
producer/director Andrew L. Stone in the late ‘50s. Ed Rummill (Mason), a hardworking and
ambitious first officer on a luxury liner, is offered the command of the S.S.
Berwind, a merchant ship, after the previous captain unexpectedly dies. “You might be smart to pass this up,” one of
his superiors cautions, noting that the Berwind has a restless crew and a
troubled history. Rummill eagerly jumps
at the opportunity for advancement anyway. Presently, flying to the remote New Zealand port where the Berwind is
docked, his enthusiasm is dampened on
first sight of the ship: “As dirty, as miserable, as rusted-up an old tub as
I’d ever seen.”
dirt and rust are the least of his worries. Crewman Scott (Broderick Crawford), abetted by his crony Martin (Stuart
Whitman), begins to stir up mutiny even before the Berwind leaves port. Scott’s plan is this: after they put out to
sea, he’ll nudge the mutineers into killing Rummill and the other
officers. Then he and Martin in turn
will murder their fellow crewmen. Once
they dispose of the bodies, the two conspirators will partially scuttle the
ship and bring it in as an abandoned derelict, collecting a reward for
recovering the vessel: one million dollars, half the value of the Berwind and
its cargo. Further creating strife, a
beautiful woman comes aboard for the voyage (Dorothy Dandridge), the wife of
the new ship’s cook. Scott gleefully
figures that the presence of the “well-stacked doll” will ratchet tensions even
direction is so efficient and the sleek Mason and rumpled Crawford are so well
contrasted as the main antagonists that you’re tempted to overlook lapses in
logic and continuity as the movie proceeds. The ship’s routine appears so orderly and the crew so sedate that the
mutiny angle never really comes together. Stone seems to recognize about
halfway through that the narrative is about to stall, and so Scott abruptly
abandons the mutiny scheme, breaks out his stash of firearms, corners the
officers on the bridge, and with Martin’s help begins to pick off the other
crewmen. Rummill begins as a character
on a human scale, competent but fallible, but by the end of the movie, he’s
swimming across a choppy ocean and scaling the side of the ship like an action
hero for a final confrontation with Scott. Similarly, Dandridge’s character, Mahia, never quite seems to come into
focus either; calculatedly seductive one minute, scared and helpless the
next. An early scene suggests that she
will pose a sexual challenge to the happily married Rummill, as Mason muses in voiceover,
“It never entered my mind that the woman would be so sensuous and so exotically
beautiful.” But Rummill keeps hands off,
regarding her as more a nuisance on the already troubled ship than an object of
the movie is best enjoyed as the cinematic equivalent of 1950s men’s pulps like
“Male” and “Saga,” which marketed lurid tales of modern-day piracy, danger at
sea, and exotic sex as true stories. Mason’s voiceover narrative even has the same overheated prose
style: “There was a ship named the S.S.
Berwind. This is the story of that ship
. . . A story which actually happened .
. . A story of the most infamous, diabolically cunning crime in the annals of
maritime history.” The name “Ed Rummill”
is suspiciously similar to “Erwin Rommel,” Mason’s famous role in “The Desert
Fox” (1951); maybe Stone and Mason were having a little fun with the audience.
Sidney Lumet’s “The Sea Gull” (1968), an ensemble cast enacts Chekhov’s tragedy
of frustrated lives and misguided love in a circle of well-to-do landowners,
actors, and aspiring artists in late 19th Century Russia. Mason shares roughly equal screen time with
Simone Signoret, Vanessa Redgrave, David Warner, Harry Andrews, Alfred Lynch,
Denholm Elliott, and Kathleen Widdoes, but in a sense he’s first among equals.
He has top billing as Trigorin, a popular but second-rate novelist. He’s the subject of the first close-up in the
film in a brief, wordless scene added by Lumet and screenwriter Moura Budberg
that doesn’t appear in the original play. And the role of Trigorin is a pivotal one, whose actions lead to
calamity for two of the other characters in the final act.
laudable to see any attempt to bring classic literature to the screen,
especially these days, when the average person in the street, if asked to
identify Chekhov, probably would answer, “Isn’t he that guy from ‘Star
Trek’?” I give Lumet and his cast high
marks for ambition, even if they never quite surmount the challenge of translating
Chekhov’s complex, allusive work to the visual, kinetic medium of film.
basic problems, one relating to casting and the other to performance, beset the
movie. While Warner and Redgrave are
fine actors, they’re too old at 27 and 31, respectively, to play Chekhov’s
Konstantin and Nina. I knew lots of kids
like Chekhov’s Konstantin in my college literature and drama courses, bright
but immature 20-year-olds with mother fixations. At 27, Warner seems like a case of arrested
development. Likewise, it’s affecting
when Chekhov’s 17- or 18-year-old Nina attaches herself to the older Trigorin,
and you realize, even if she doesn’t, that her infatuation will not end well;
Redgrave looks like a woman in her twenties who should know better. Mason doesn’t present the same disconnect
between appearance and behavior, but he brings a misplaced sense of gravity to
the role of the faintly absurd Trigorin. The disreputable Mason of “The Wicked Lady” (1945) and “The Prisoner of
Zenda” (1952) would better have served the role.
Warner Archive Collection editions are bare-bones DVDs without chapter stops,
subtitles, or significant extras. “The
Decks Ran Red” includes the theatrical trailer. The black-and-white transfer is acceptable, and there’s a startling
visual in the title credit, where “Red” in “The Decks Ran Red” stands out in
bleeding crimson against the monochromic background. They do the same thing now in “Sin City” with
computers; how did they do it in 1958? The transfer of “The Sea Gull” is somewhat soft, muting the Technicolor
cinematography, but not objectionable. There are no extra features.
approached the 2013 Blu-Ray edition of André Téchiné’s “The Bronte
Sisters” (1979) with mild interest, which was mostly piqued by the powerhouse
casting of the three leading young actresses of 1970s French cinema -- Isabelle
Adjani, Isabelle Huppert, and Marie-France Pisier -- as Emily, Anne, and
Charlotte Bronte. Imagine a 2014 U.S.
film teaming Scarlett Johanssen, Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley. With vague memories of “Devotion,”
Hollywood’s melodramatic 1946 Bronte biopic, I was doubtful that the film
itself would be particularly compelling.
But I was pleasantly surprised.
Relating the formative events in the lives of the three sisters and
their brother Branwell (Pascal Greggory) in straightforward, episodic form,
Téchiné’s interpretation is first-rate: excellently acted, emotionally moving,
and visually striking with starkly beautiful cinematography by Bruno Nuytten on
the Yorkshire moors where the Bronte siblings lived their sadly short lives.
In a new documentary about the making of the film, included as
an extra on the Cohen Film Collection Blu-Ray, Téchiné recalls that he wanted
to stay true to the facts of the Brontes’ lives without speculation or
embellishment. Similarly, he “demanded a
certain austerity of acting” from the cast to complement the unadorned style of
the narrative. Beginning with a scene in
which Branwell, proud but also uncertain about his talent, unveils his painting
of his three sisters and himself, the movie proceeds to cover decisive moments in the siblings’ lives. Emily, a free spirit, capers on the moors in
boy’s clothing. Charlotte, the quietly
ambitious sister, convinces their aunt to lend money so that she and Emily to
go abroad to school. Anne, the dutiful
one, stays behind to take care of their father, aunt, and brother.
Initially, this approach seems a bit cold and distant, but as
the movie continues, it becomes clear that Téchiné’s decision was a wise
one. The unfolding vignettes are quietly
powerful in illuminating the close and sometimes contentious relationships
between the sisters. This
matter-of-factness pays off especially well in the later segments of the film. As one tragedy after another besets the
family, the scenes relating to the deaths of Branwell, Emily, and Anne are all
the more affecting because they aren’t amped up with banal dialogue and syrupy
background music. Téchiné is helped
immensely by the costuming, set design and cinematography (as he acknowledges
in the making-of documentary), which recreate mid-19th Century England in
A certain playful sense of humor surfaces occasionally,
leavening the bleakness of the story. When the sisters submit their first novels as Acton, Currer, and Ellis
Bell, speculation runs wild in the publishing world: are they the same person,
are they male or female, are they a man and a woman collaborating? Deciding it’s time to reveal the sisters’ true
identities, Anne and Charlotte travel to London to meet with their publisher in
person. “I am Currer Bell, and that is Acton,” Charlotte says quietly when she
and Anne appear unexpectedly in the publisher’s office. “We are three sisters. There is no man.” Pisier delivers the lines with perfect
Adjani, Huppert, and Pisier are luminous. Interviews in the making-of documentary
reveal that the actresses had a sometimes intense off-camera rivalry,
complicated by existing relationships with other people in the production
crew. (Téchiné and Pisier were friends;
Adjani and Nuytten were romantically attached.) It’s a measure of Téchiné’s talent and the actresses’ professionalism
that the three women convincingly project a sisterly bond of support and
affection, with perhaps the real-life rivalry only erupting strategically on
screen in scenes where the sisters’ love for each other is strained. I wish Patrick Magee (“Marat/Sade,” “A Clockwork
Orange”) had more to do as the head of the Bronte family, and his distinctive
voice is lost because his lines are dubbed in French by someone else, but
nevertheless his presence is used effectively if sparingly, Bronte purists will be pleased that he,
Téchiné, and co-writer Pascal Bonitzer portray the Rev. Patrick Bronte
sympathetically as a caring father and progressive clergyman, reflecting modern
scholarship that refutes earlier prose and film portraits of Bronte as a
addition to the making-of documentary, the Cohen Film Collection Blu-Ray
includes two trailers and an excellent audio commentary track by film critic
Wade Major and Bronte scholar Sue Lonoff de Cuevas. If you’re as unfamiliar with the subject
matter as I was, I might almost suggest that you listen to the commentary
before playing the movie, since Major and de Cuevas illuminate many details
about Bronte history and about the production aspects of the movie that
deepened my appreciation of the film. Although the making-of documentary doesn’t include Adjani or Huppert
(Pisier died in 2011), many of the other key cast and crew are
interviewed. This is an excellent
Blu-Ray package, highly recommended.
Now this is what you call a bargain: three terrific WWII flicks for only $10 on Amazon, courtesy of Shout! Factory's Timeless Media label, which continues to distribute first rate editions of films that were often considered to be second-rate at the time of their initial release. This "War Film Triple Feature" package includes three gems that were not particularly notable at the time of their release. Two have grown in stature, while the third has benefited only from Cinema Retro writer Howard Hughes' enthusiastic coverage in issue #25. The films included in the set are:
"Attack" (1955)- During the period of WWII, both the Allied and Axis film industries concentrated on feature films that were pure propaganda designed to motivate their fighting men and the public at large. By the early-to-mid-1950s, however, more introspective viewpoints emerged among Hollywood directors and writers. With the conflict now over, the American military became fair game for criticism, though thin-skinned top brass would withhold official cooperation to productions that didn't pass their demands to show the Army or Navy in a positive light. Fred Zinnemann had to water down the script for "From Here to Eternity" from being a scathing indictment of military brass to making the villains a couple of stray bad apples who got their just comeuppance once the generals rode to the rescue of oppressed enlisted men. By 1955, director Robert Aldrich had emerged as a major new talent and had enough clout with the studios to thumb his nose at Pentagon demands when it came to developing his latest project, a controversial WWII script titled "Attack" (aka "Attack!"). Aldrich, who also produced the film, was denied use of military personnel and equipment when he refused to radically change the story. Instead, he focused on a small band of soldiers and laid out $1,000 of his own money to buy an old tank- the only "major" investment in this economical production. Ironically, by making the film on a relatively tiny budget, he succeeded in creating one of the most powerful military stories of its era. The film focuses on a company of battle-weary G.I.s who just lost a sizable portion of their unit when a mission went terribly awry. Lt. Joe Costa (Jack Palance) puts the blame squarely on his commanding officer, Captain Cooney (Eddie Albert), accusing him of cowardly behavior by failing to provide the men under his command with the backup support he had promised. When Cooney orders Costa and his men to occupy a farmhouse in a village that may be infested with the enemy, he makes similar problems to provide backup support should a firefight break out. Costa threatens to kill Cooney if he breaks his word again but Cooney remains unphased. Like the French officers in Kubrick's "Paths of Glory", he is a politically connected snob whose influence in social circles allows him to be protected by his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Bartlett (Lee Marvin). Bartlett is repulsed by Cooney's cowardice but has political aspirations after the war and knows that, by coddling Cooney, his influential father can assure his being elected. When the mission goes predictably bad, Costa loses many men under his command and Cooney never provides the promised assistance. This leads to some of the most shocking developments ever seen in an American war movie and, indeed, the scenario that plays out is still rather traumatizing today as an enraged Costa enacts his plan of revenge. The ending of the film is so unlike anything seen in a Hollywood production that one is surprised the film wasn't consigned to sit unreleased on a shelf. As leading man, Jack Palance is acting with a capital "A" as he uses every nuance of the new "method" acting that was then all the rage. Still, he makes a powerful on screen presence. However, it is Eddie Albert who steals the show with a masterful performance as a sniveling, spoiled elitist. (The irony is that Albert was a real life war hero who was wounded during the D-Day invasion.) Lee Marvin is also excellent in an early career role and Robert Strauss provides the few laughs in the film as a blue collar Jewish soldier who is understandably paranoid about being captured by Germans. "Attack" is a terrific war movie- one that probably plays better today than it did at the time of its initial release.
"BEACH RED" (1967)- While Cornel Wilde primarily enjoyed a successful career as a reasonably popular leading man, he also showed considerable skill as a director. His 1966 African adventure film "The Naked Prey" was an impressive achievement on all levels. Wilde followed that film with "Beach Red", a 1967 WWII era story that seems to have intentional parallels with America's increasingly unpopular presence in Vietnam. Based on a novel written near the end of WWII, "Beach Red" is primarily a pacifist view of a "good war", that is a conflict that the Western democracies realized was necessary to avoid totalitarianism from dominating the globe. Wilde isn't interested in the big picture, however. His film concentrates on how war affects individuals, in this case a company of U.S. G.Is who must make a seemingly suicidal landing off an unnamed beach in the Pacific while under relentless Japanese fire. This opening sequence is quite harrowing and Wilde does an excellent job of handling the logistics. (He had the cooperation of the Philippine government in return for filming there, thus had actual soldiers available as extras for the battle scenes.) The gruesome close-ups of wounded and dying Americans caused a bit of a stir in critical circles back in the day but Wilde deserves credit for showing an aspect of war that went beyond the standard Hollywood "Gung Ho!" treatment of men in battle. The opening sequence also blends in real battle footage, but as was generally the case with this tactic, the grainy newsreel footage is a rather awkward match for the crisp, clean work of Wilde's cinematographer Cecil R. Cooney. The screenplay was quite offbeat for the era. The action moves back and forth between American and Japanese lines in an attempt to humanize both sides. This wasn't an entirely unique premise. David Lean had made the Japanese commander a three dimensional character in his 1957 classic "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and Frank Sinatra- in his only attempt at directing- humanized Japanese troops in his 1965 film "None But the Brave". Nevertheless, presenting "the other side" as something other than comic book cliches gives "Beach Red" a mature, interesting outlook on the war in the Pacific. The only other "name" actor in the film is Rip Torn as Wilde's hard-boiled second-in-command who has a tendency for sadism. Wilde gets a bit artsy by blending in flashbacks envisioned by both American and Japanese soldiers as they mutually dream of their wives and families back home. Some of these sequences are set to a pacifist-themed folk song and proves to be effective in conveying some real emotion when a character meets a grisly demise. There is a disjointed feel to the film, as though Wilde seemed to have a strong message but didn't know how to quite wrap it all up in a single package. Nevertheless, "Beach Red" remains an underrated, bold film that displays Wilde's talents both in front of and behind the camera.
"ATTACK ON THE IRON COAST" (1968)- As mentioned previously, Cinema Retro writer Howard Hughes covered the making of this relatively low-budget 1968 WWII film in issue #25 and extolled its virtues. "Coast" was one of numerous small-scale wartime movies filmed in England in the late 1960s that turned out to be highly entertaining, well-scripted, directed and acted. "Coast" is one of the best of the bunch, most of which were produced by Oakmont Productions and released by United Artists, often as the lower half of double bills in the United States. Lloyd Bridges, in a rare starring role in a feature film, plays Major Jamie Wilson, a man who is haunted by a botched major military operation that resulted in 3/4 of his command being killed. He is at odds with Captain Franklin (Andrew Keir), an equally hard-nosed officer whose son was killed in the ill-fated operation. Both men blame each other for bungling the mission and there is genuine hatred between them. To redeem himself, Wilson devises another elaborate, highly dangerous mission- this time to send a small group of commandos into Occupied France to destroy a dockside refueling station that the Germans consider crucial for continuing to wreak havoc on Allied naval forces. Predictably, Wilson and Franklin are assigned to spearhead the mission despite their mutual dislike for each other. Wilson's relentless training for the operation results in his getting a reputation as a Captain Bligh-like figure, despite the fact that at home, he is a devoted husband to his wife Sue (Sue Lloyd) and his young son Jimmy (Mark Ward). Wilson's plan involves disguising a vessel as an enemy boat and sailing unobstructed near the French port where frogmen will swim to the dock and destroy key installations. The German commander (Walter Gotell) is fortunately preoccupied with an easy lifestyle of watching stag movies, smoking cigars and drinking fine liquors. The early stages of the operation prove to be successful- but then things start to go wrong. Director Paul Wendkos, who also helmed the Oakmont production "Hell Boats", does a good job of wringing a lot of suspense out of the intelligent script. He's helped by the fact that both Bridges and Keir (a Christopher Lee type with a strong screen presence) both deliver excellent performances. The low budget is evident in the use of miniatures in the battle sequences, but overall, "Attack on the Iron Coast" is a first rate "B" movie. Highly recommended.
have to be honest and admit that my entry point for the Women In Prison film
genre was at the sleazy end of the spectrum. I caught the grubby little Linda
Blair movie Chained Heat (1983) on cable in my long ago youth and was suitably
appalled – appalled enough to watch it in stunned horror at least three more times.
So as I grew older and saw more of these types of movies my idea of what a WIP
film would or could be became solidified around the 1970s and 80s version of
the genre. I'm sure you'll forgive me if I thought that they were little more
than delivery mechanisms for visions of various forms of lesbian sexual
activity, shower room violence, petty torture acts and other harsh bits of
business. Yeah, yeah- the occasional film might make noises about reforming the
horrible conditions on display but mostly the filmmakers were just wallowing in
gratuitous exploitative excess in the name of making a buck. Not that there is
anything wrong with that, in my opinion. But imagine my surprise when I first
encountered older WIP moves that couldn't fall back on showing a shower roomful
of naked, large-breasted ladies. What would be the draw? Wouldn't the lack of
such graphic elements cripple the film? What the hell is this? A film about
women locked up in a prison that actually has a good script? How did this
(1950) tells the sad story of 19 year old Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker). She has
been sentenced to a stretch in prison because of a bungled armed robbery
committed by her husband who was killed during the act. She insists that she
had nothing to do with crime but she was convicted as an accessory
nevertheless. To make matters for her worse, her prison entrance physical
determines that she is two months pregnant meaning she will give birth while
incarcerated. Marie has trouble adjusting to the harsh world of the women's
prison and struggles to find people she can trust. She meets professional
shoplifter Kitty Stark (Betty Garde) who says once Marie gets out, Kitty will
get her a job in her line of work. Kitty recruits for organized crime on the
outside and promises the young girl an easy life if she learns this criminal
trade. Marie does not want to get involved in crime, but Kitty explains the
realities of prison life clearly and events prove the 'booster' right. It is
explained to her that she can be paroled after nine months, but over time Marie
sees prisoner after prisoner being granted parole but then not released from
jail because no job has been arranged by their parole officers. After one such
prisoner kills herself the reality of her situation begins to become
apparent. Adding to her despair is the sadistic matron Evelyn Harper (Hope
Emerson) who decides to single Marie out for attention when she refuses to play
along with her money making schemes. By the time Marie gives birth to a healthy
baby and is forced by the state to grant full custody to her mother she has a
small bit of hope that she will be granted a parole to be with her child. But
when her mother gives the baby up for adoption against Marie's will she snaps
and makes a feeble try at escape.
many films of the genre, the prison in Caged has an authority figure that is
actually sympathetic to the plight of the ladies under her care. The great
Agnes Moorhead plays Ruth Benton, the reformist prison superintendent trying to
get evidence against the cruel Harper while simultaneously attempting to help the prisoners find a pathway out of
their dead end lives. Benton is as lenient with Marie as she can be but soon
she has to punish her when her actions become less justifiable and more like
her more hardened cellmates. When the now toughened Marie emerges from a moth
in solitary she finally takes violent action against Harper and shows that she
has given up hope of following the straight a narrow path to parole. She's
going to get out of prison no matter what she has to do once she is on the outside.
I might have expected the reformist slant taken by this film, I wasn't
expecting a 1950 movie to be so daring in talking about the nastier aspects of
prison life. All the mean spirited subjects that I have come to expect from
later entries in the genre are here. Yes, they have to turn away from
gratuitously showing the lesbian relationships and vicious violent acts but
those events are in the story and not hidden behind the prudish restrictions I
expected. This is a classic social commentary film and it firmly places the
blame on the prison system for turning Marie into a career criminal but it
still manages to show that she chooses the easiest way out of her predicament. I
was surprised by the ending of this movie and pleased by its high quality
across the board. Caged is a very good film regardless of what you might think
of prison stories and this might be the film to introduce new viewers to Women
In Prison movies. It gives a sense of the unforgiving nature of the genre while
saving the harder stuff for later.
Caged! is a available through the Warner Archive. The DVD includes the original theatrical trailer. Click here to order.
The Warner Archive has released the classic 1956 film noir Ransom! as a burn-to-order title. The film is a textbook example of minimalist production values being overshadowed by a strong, intelligent script (co-written by future 007 scribe Richard Maibaum) and excellent direction, courtesy of Alex Segal. Glenn Ford plays Dave Stannard, a highly successful owner of a major vacuum cleaner company. He lives an idyllic home life with his devoted wife Edith (Donna Reed) and their 8 year-old son Andy (Bobby Clark). Suddenly their peaceful, quiet life is sent into a tragic spin when Andy is kidnapped by persons unknown. Stannard alerts the local police chief and soon his house is swarming with cops while outside a circus-like atmosphere develops as ghoulish neighbors gather to sniff out any updates in the case. For long agonizing hours Stannard doesn't receive any word until the inevitable phone call comes in demanding that he get a $500,000 ransom together. Stannard uses his influence as a highly respected local businessman to get the local bank to provide the money in the exact denominations required. He and Edith are convinced that by paying the ransom, Andy will be returned safely. However, the police chief (Robert Keith) and a local reporter (Leslie Nielsen) break the sobering news to him that, by paying the ransom, he is probably ensuring his son's death. Stannard rethinks his strategy and goes on local television with a direct address to the kidnappers: if they release Andy no harm will be done and if they are ever arrested he will plead for leniency for them. However, he becomes increasingly enraged as he informs them of the alternative: they will never get the ransom money because he intends to use it as a reward to bring them to justice- "dead or alive". In a superbly written sequence, Stannard addresses the unseen villains and tells them that with the $500,000 reward hanging over their heads, they will never know a minute's peace. They will suspect everyone around them, including each other, of being a potential sell-out. Edith, who is emotionally shattered, is outraged at Stannard's strategy. In fact, virtually everyone is against him, callously accusing him of valuing money over the life of his son. However, Stannard holds firm in the belief that every ransom paid ensures a future kidnapping. With his marriage crumbling, his own brother publicly criticizing him and his wife on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Stannard begins to question the logic of his controversial strategy.
Director Segal milks considerable tension out of this scenario and goes against the grain of the conformist 1950s by presenting both the police and the press in a rather cynical light. The chief tries to be helpful and is sympathetic to Stannard but lets slip that his every decision is motivated by political implications. He also has to resort to helping himself to Stannard's liquor cabinet in order to cope with the crisis. Similarly, Nielsen's streetwise reporter adds to Stannard's misery by threatening to leak the story unless Stannard promises him exclusive access to his home once the news does break. The script also avoids an obvious cliche by not identifying who the culprits are. Their identities become irrelevant, as this is about one family's trauma and their personal reactions to it. The actors are all first rate with Ford, not always the most exciting of screen presences, giving what may well be the most intense performance of his career. The premise of the movie has had impressive durability. This film was based on a TV drama and in the 1990s it was remade by Ron Howard in a big budget version starring Mel Gibson. However, Alex Segal's version remains, in many ways, the most enduring. It's precision, economical filmmaking at its best.
The DVD contains the original trailer.
Click here to order from the Warner Archive and to view a preview clip.
Twilight Time has released yet another excellent film as a limited edition (3,000 unit) Blu-ray release. The Roots of Heaven was made in 1958, directed by John Huston and based on a novel by Romain Gary, who co-wrote the screenplay. Like many of the movies the video label makes available to retro film fans, this is a very interesting production that might otherwise have escaped your attention. Such was the case with this writer. I had heard of the movie but knew nothing about it until I popped a review disc in my Blu-ray player. The first impressive aspect is the cast: Errol Flynn, Trevor Howard and Orson Welles in one production? Irresistible. What is truly fascinating about The Roots of Heaven is its politically progressive point-of-view, an urgent plea for conservation and care for animals and the environment during an era where this was hardly populist fare. Howard is cast as Morel, a charismatic but eccentric Englishman living in French Equatorial Africa. Morel is on a one-man crusade to stop the wholesale killing of elephants by poachers and thrill seekers. He goes through official channels in an attempt to get influential politicians to join his cause and pass conservation laws, but he is mocked and dismissed as a crazy man. Aghast and disgusted by the colonial European's disregard for the land and its animals, Morel turns up the heat, recruiting a small band of confederates with whom he wreaks havoc on the local hierarchy. As Morel turns to increasingly desperate and violent tactics, he becomes the nation's most wanted man. His motley gang includes Forsythe (Errol Flynn), a courageous but perpetually drunken hotel owner and Minna (Juliette Greco), a glamorous and fiercely independent local hooker who has survived being forced into prostitution in Nazi bordellos. Together, the group begins to gain international fame, especially when their exploits are broadcast worldwide by a famed radio announcer (Orson Welles) who they initially disgrace, but who comes to admire their courage and determination. With fame, however, comes danger, and before long the small band of heroes find themselves under increasingly difficult circumstances as the reward money for their capture grows. Undeterred, they soldier on, continuing to harass poachers and government officials alike until their efforts win them international support. It all comes to a head in a harrowing climax that pits the conservationists against a particularly brutal band of hunters who are intent on slaughtering a large number of elephants in order to get the all-important ivory.
The production was the brainchild of legednary Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck, who had temporarily left the studio to become an independent producer. The Roots of Heaven is such a fine film that it's puzzling why retro film scholars and academics continue to overlook its virtues. The movie's troubled production history may have something to do with it. Huston originally intended to cast William Holden as Morel, but when that fell through, he went with Trevor Howard. Aware that Howard was anything but a matinee idol, Huston reluctantly rewrote the part to make the implied romance between his character and Minna more paternal than sensual. Huston also griped that the film was rushed into production, thus resulting in many artistic compromises being made. The shoot itself was hell, with the cast and crew enduring temperatures that routinely caused people to faint from heat exhaustion. What emerged, however, was a film that remains impressive on many counts. Howard reaffirms his status as one of the best (and most underrated) actors of his generation. He is stern, stubborn, and yet sympathetic in his quixotic quest to bring appreciation of nature to the tone deaf bureaucrats who could end the slaughter of magnificent animals with the stroke of a pen. A weathered, but still dashing Errol Flynn gets top billing, but he's largely relegated to window dressing in what is clearly a supporting role. Still, he exudes plenty of the old charm and charisma in what would be his second-to-last film. The biggest surprise is the performance of Juliette Greco, who was cast primarily because she was Zanuck's mistress du jour. In the informative DVD booklet by Julie Kirgo, she relates that Greco despised Zanuck and routinely mocked him behind his back. Yet, unlike some of Zanuck's arm candy, Greco possessed not only glamor but real acting ability, inveighing the time worn character of the sympathetic hooker with pathos. It's truly a pity that major stardom did not follow. The film benefits greatly from Oswald Morris' magnificent cinematography and the fact that Huston, as he did on The African Queen, eschews studio shots as much as possible to maximize exotic locations. (There is real irony in that Huston's main motive for making Queen was said to be his obsession with hunting and killing an elephant. In The Roots of Heaven, he directs a story that deplores such behavior). There is also a rousing score by Malcolm Arnold that channels some key ingredients from his compositions for The Bridge on the River Kwai.
Kudos to Twilight Time for once again saving a terrific film from cinematic oblivion.
the early half of the 1970s – post his final (official) stint as 007 – Sean
Connery made an eclectic array of script choices, ranging from the highly
astute (The Offence and The Man Who Would Be King, both of which
rank among his finest screen work) to the, er… questionable. (Yes, Zardoz, I’m looking at you). 1974’s
political potboiler Ransom (U.S. title: The Terrorists) falls somewhere
little more than a clutch of television works to his prior credit, Finnish
director Caspar Wrede wouldn’t seem to have been the most obvious choice to
helm a big screen thriller with a bone fide international superstar headlining,
and the plodding result does somewhat corroborate its director’s roots.
story picks up in the wake of a series of bomb attacks on London, and finds a
group of terrorists holding hostage the British ambassador to Scandinavia.
Meanwhile, a separate team led by Petrie (Ian McShane) have hijacked a British
plane on the icebound runway, Petrie’s intent being to whisk his comrades and
the ailing ambassador out of the country. Failure of the officials to comply
will result in the plane, along with its passengers and crew, being blown sky
high. It falls to Scandinavia’s head of security Tahlvik (Connery) – renowned
for his refusal to negotiate with terrorists – to intervene.
Connery’s magnetic screen presence as the hard-as-nails security chief coupled
with fresh-faced Ian McShane’s lively turn as the urbane terrorist who may not
be all that he seems keep things ticking along reasonably well, and director
Wrede generates sporadic moments of suspense during the opponents’ strategic
play-offs. The Norwegian locations offer up some terrific vistas for
Oscar-winning Swedish cinematographer Nils Nykvist to train his lens on (an
aerial pursuit through snow-dappled mountains is breathtakingly noteworthy) and
Jerry Goldsmith delivers a serviceable score, albeit one of the less memorable
in his vast oeuvre.
beyond this, I’m afraid, Ransom is
very much routine fare. It doesn’t help that the script confines Connery – indisputably
the picture’s biggest asset – to an office, treading water as he orchestrates
attempts by others to outwit the terrorists; he should be out there on the ice
himself, getting his hands dirty. By the time he steps into the fray at the
climax it’s a case of too little too late.
Distributing have issued Ransom on
DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK as part of their ongoing “The British Film”
collection. The new HD transfer looks tremendous (so clean, in fact, that it
gives the game away in a couple of instances where still images have been
inserted in lieu of live action footage) and the release is rounded out with a
pair of original release cinema trailers and a respectable gallery of stills
and poster art.
Turn on the news these days and it’s hard to avoid the
conclusion the world is in pretty bad shape. Wars and unrest in the Middle East
and Eastern Europe, passenger planes shot out of the sky, deadly viruses with
no cure, the government spying on their own people, terrorist bombings, mass shootings
in schools, tornadoes ripping people’s homes apart, drone attacks. No sooner is
one disaster over than another begins. Times are weird and chaotic. It’s almost
as though the cable news channels aren’t broadcasting the news so much as
they’re showing episodes out of an old movie serial cliffhanger.
Anyone remember those 20 minute chapter plays that ran
week after week before the Saturday matinee double feature at neighborhood
theaters? They showed up later on TV in the fifties. They were usually based on
comic strips that were popular back in the 1930’s, featuring characters like
Buck Rogers, Ace Drummond, Jungle Jim, and Tarzan.
Perhaps the best of the cliffhangers were the three
produced in the 1930s by Henry McCrea for Universal, featuring Alex Raymond’s comic
strip character Flash Gordon. Created by the Hearst Syndicate to compete with
Buck Rogers, Flash wasn’t like today’s superheroes. He didn’t have special
powers. He couldn’t fly, or have bullets bounce off his chest. In fact, before
the word came under attack by Ming the Merciless, he was just a polo player.
But when disaster struck, he was able to rise to the occasion and save the
There were three Flash Gordon serials released by
Universal. “Flash Gordon” was first in 1936. In this one Ming, Emperor of the
planet Mongo (Charles Middleton), is steering his planet directly into the
orbital path of the earth. Flash, (Olympic swimming star Buster Crabbe), Dale
Arden, (the beautiful Jean Rogers) a woman he meets on a plane shot out of the
sky, and Dr. Hans Zarkov (Frank Shannon) fly to Mongo in a spaceship that
Zarkov designed. It took 12 episodes and four hours of actual viewing time, but
our heroes finally prevailed. Or at least thought they did.
“Flash Gordon” was followed in 1938 by “Flash Gordon’s
Trip to Mars” in which Flash, Dale and Dr. Z discover that Ming isn’t as dead,
as he appeared at the end of the first serial. They take him on again, this
time on Mars, where Ming is assisted by the mysterious Azura, Queen of Magic.
Finally in 1940, McCrea produced “Flash Gordon Conquers
the Universe.” In this chapter play, the earth’s population is being decimated
by a plague known as The Purple Death. No surprise to learn that Ming once
again survived his supposed death at the end of the last bunch of episodes and
is behind the mysterious disease.
McCrea had a very convincing method of setting up each
of these serials, by opening the story with newsreel footage of wars,
earthquakes, and riots in the streets. Watch the beginning of any of them, and
except for the black and white photography, you’d swear you’re watching the news. The chaotic world
of the Flash Gordon serials strongly resembles our world today. So where is
Flash now, when we need him the most?
Fortunately he’s readily at hand, at least on DVD. Last
year Image Madacy Entertainment released a dandy little set of all three
serials titled “The Complete Adventures of Flash Gordon”. It comes not in a box
but in a three-way fold-out album that has a cover featuring a collage of the
main characters. There’s a 24-page booklet in the fold-out with some of Alex
Raymond’s original artwork for the Sunday newspaper comic strips. In addition, there’s
text giving some background info on the characters that appear in the comics
and in the serials—not anything new for old time fans, but a nice introduction
for anyone new to this space opera.
As for the serials themselves, some may think they’re
quaint with space ships that look like household appliances with sparklers
attached, magnified gila monsters for dinosaurs, and a guy in a gorilla suit
with a horn glued on his head. But there’s an underlying story in all three
serials that is probably worth watching again during these times. Like our
world, the planet Mongo was a world divided against itself. Lion Men battled
Hawkmen, The Hawkmen fought the Sharkmen, Frigia is attacked by Autobots sent
by Ming. All these tribes and races, in fact, are at war with each other mainly
because Ming manipulates and controls them. It’s Flash who arrives and makes
friend with each of these groups, and then unites them in friendship to defeat
the evil emperor. It’s sort of a triumph of cultural diversity.
The video and sound quality of the DVDs is good, but
not great. There’s been no effort to restore the seventy year old film stock,
so there are lots of scratches and dust, but for the most part the serials are
very watchable. You can buy them on the Internet for around 10 or 11 bucks. I
highly recommend this collection. It’s a great antidote to the news.
It’s not that I have any compelling evidence, but I
find it more fun to believe than to not believe. Of all the skeptics I’ve known, none have
been fun at a party. Give me a roomful
of believers, and I can almost guarantee a nicer bunch of people, not to
mention tastier stuff at the buffet.
Watching The Life
After Death Project, a 2- disc DVD
set collecting a pair of made for TV documentaries that aired on ScyFy last
year, didn’t sway me one way or the other, but I look forward to more by
director Paul Davids. I watch a lot of
documentaries, and most of them eventually lapse into cuteness or
self-indulgence. A lot of them are 90
minute selfies. Davids won me over
because he simply allows people to talk, to describe what they’ve experienced.
He doesn’t bother with cheesy recreations, and doesn’t try to scare us. What
Davids does is create a mood as if we’re sitting around a campfire telling
stories. What’s better than that?
Disc one is the winner. It’s about Davids’ relationship
with Forrest J Ackerman, the editor and publisher of Famous Monsters of
Filmland, a fun magazine that had a curious impact on a certain faction of male
children born after 1955. Davids knew
Ackerman, and is convinced that his old friend and mentor is haunting him.
Davids interviews some other people from Ackerman’s circle, and they, too, have
experienced odd happenings that suggest a possible close encounter of the Forry
kind. Apparently, the man known to his closest admirers as “Uncle Forry” still
enjoys a good practical joke, even from beyond the grave.
Where the movie really kicked in for me was when Davids
enlisted the help of various psychics. The trio, all female, each took a crack
at speaking to Ackerman. The outcomes were fascinating. One psychic in
particular described Ackerman perfectly. I’m aware that the psychic scenes could’ve
been rigged in the editing, but so what? I was entertained, which is a rarity
these days. And if Ackerman’s friends say that he visits them in their dreams,
I’ll take them at their word. (After all
the money I spent on FMOF back in my childhood, I’m expecting a visit, too.
Forry, if you’re out there, I’m in Rockport MA, and I usually go to bed around
1:00 AM. Stop on by.)
Davids was obviously very passionate about the Ackerman
story, so disc two suffers a bit in comparison. It's mostly a series of talking head sequences where various people
discuss the subject of life after death. Even though it’s not as fun as the
first disc, some of disc two is quite interesting, particularly when Davids
talks to nurses and hospice care workers who have some amazing stories to tell.
There are allegedly some extra features on the first
disc, including some interviews with Ackerman and more spooky talk, but they
weren’t on my reviewer’s copy. Perhaps
this was another of Forry’s post life practical jokes.
For a better understanding of Forrest J Ackerman’s
life, you could do worse than watch Uncle
Forry’s Ackermansions, now on DVD from Novemberfire.com. It’s a 70 minute labor of love from November
Fire founder Strephon Taylor and Tom Wyrsch, combining a lot of home movies,
plus some old interviews where Forry sat
with Northern Ca. horror host Bob Wilkins to tell stories about Boris Karloff,
Peter Lorre, and others.
Ackerman was the original fanboy. He created science fiction fanzines,
organized fan clubs, amassed what is probably the largest collection of sci-fi
and horror memorabilia in the world, and was eventually hired by publisher
James Warren to helm Famous Monsters of Filmland. He had a generous side, often opening his
home to the public, allowing other fans to come in and enjoy his
What drives a collector? Is it a kind of gluttony? Does
it stem from adolescent desire to have more than the other kids? Is at
overcompensation for something lacking in a person's life? I’ve known some
collectors, and their tunnel vision can be off-putting. A few are downright unhinged. A study should
be done. Unfortunately, this particular documentary doesn't tackle any serious
questions about the inner-workings of obsessive collectors. It's just a fun
jaunt through Ackerman's various homes.
Ackerman is at his most likable when he talks of his
1920s childhood, when he attended as many as seven movies in one day. He sounds
humble when he discusses how he fell in love with “fantastic films,” and even
as an old man he still seemed smitten by the robot from Metropolis. Those years must have had a profound impact on him, for
he spent the next five decades trying to relive them. This is the Ackerman I wish I had known, the
one I might have called “Uncle.”
Scorpion has released the complete version of the 3-part 1978 mini series "The Dain Curse" as a double DVD set. The show has a checkered history in terms of home video. A truncated version was available for a while on VHS, then Image released the full three episodes on DVD. Now Scorpion has done the same and the quality of the set is very good, capturing the relatively rich production values of the series. Those of us of a certain age can remember when the major networks put a great deal of time, talent and financial resources into mini-series. In the 1970s and 1980s, many of these shows constituted "must-see" TV. In an age in which the average household didn't have video recorders, some shows were so special that people altered their lifestyles to ensure they could catch each episode. Today, those days seem long gone, with network TV now a haven for trashy game shows, indistinguishable cop show and so-called "reality shows", most of which don't bear any resemblance to the world most of us live in. To top it all off, even if you are inclined to indulge in this fare, you have to sit through such a mind-numbing number of commercials, you'll probably forget where the story left off before the last break. The good news, of course, is that magnificently entertaining mini-series are still thriving. The bad news is that you have to pay even more to watch them via "premium" cable TV channels. "The Dain Curse" was produced smack in the middle of the prestige craze of the 1970s when TV networks tried to outshine each other in terms of producing acclaimed mini-series. Unfortunately, this series, despite a promising concept, falls far short of the mark.
The story, set in 1929, is based on a Dashiell Hammett novel, ordinarily a good source for a film noir production. Robert Mitchum had gotten the formula right a couple of years before with his portrayal of Philip Marlowe in "Farewell, My Lovely". Coburn would seem to be an appropriate leading man for another Hammett protagonist, private eye Hamilton Nash. However, whereas Mitchum looked sleepy, worn-out and perpetually pissed off, Coburn looks too much like a movie star. He's immaculately attired and supremely self-confident. He does suffer the fate of all noirish detectives: he makes the occasional misjudgement that sees him beaten and battered, but for the most part Coburn is a bit too Hollywood to ever convince you that he's an employee of a private eye agency. Nonetheless, even miscast Coburn is a joy to watch, especially as he trades wisecracks with cops, crooks and dames. The problem with "The Dain Curse", however, is that there are far too many of all these characters. The plot is overly-complex and virtually impossible to follow. It opens with Nash investigating the alleged robbery of some diamonds from the home of a rich, middle-aged couple. In the process, Nash suspects there never was a robbery and begins to unravel the reasons for the staged crime. In the process, he meets the couple's daughter, a twenty-something beauty named Gabrielle, who turns out to be real handful. She's a head-turner, but she's also insufferably cynical and self-obsessed and her party girl habits lead to a complicated scenario that ultimately involves murder, phony religious cults, drug addiction and kidnapping. Throughout, Nash has to deal with the usual eccentrics found in any detective story of the era: incompetent cops, a kindly boss who is exasperated by his star detective's independent streak, corrupt public officials and more red herrings than you would find in a fish factory. Within ten minutes, I found myself confused. By the one hour mark, I had given up in terms of trying to follow the plot and the character's motivations and just decided to sit back and enjoy the often impressive performances. These include Beatrice Straight as Gabrielle's mother, Hector Elizondo as a small time sheriff who assists Nash and, most impressively, Jason Miller, playing against type as a dandy writer in the Truman Capote mold (though he favors the opposite sex.) The best performance comes from Nancy Addison in the challenging role of Gabrielle. Addison successfully conveys the wide range of emotion the character has to display over the film's five hour running time. There are also welcome appearances by Jean Simmons, Paul Stewart, Roland Winters and New York's favorite raconteur, Malachy McCourt.
The film has some riveting sequences such as Nash's investigation of a cult religious temple where a human sacrifice is being planned and his subsequent drugging by hallucinogen-causing gasses. The Long Island locations are also pleasing to the eye and Charles Gross's period jazz score is admirable. However, the screenplay drags on for far too long, testing one's ability to follow the nature of pivotal relationships and motivations. By the time the movie grinds to what should be a compelling courtroom climax, the revelations aren't shocking because you can barely understand their implications- and there is little that director E.W. Swackhamer (we love that name!) can do to sew these disparate elements into something comprehensible.
The Scorpion DVD package features the cool original promotional art on the sleeve and also includes trailers for other Scorpion releases including Coburn's "The Internecine Project", Burt Lancaster in "Go Tell the Spartans" and an unusual trailer for "Saint Jack" hosted by director Peter Bogdanovich.
(The following review
pertains to the UK release of the film on Region B/2 formats)
By Howard Hughes
The Girls with the Dragon Tattoo
on from its release of ‘Lady Snowblood’ and ‘Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of
Vengeance’ in 2012, UK company Arrow
Films has released another Japanese cult classic in ‘Blind Woman’s Curse’, a
film which mixes swordplay, horror and the supernatural into a bloody vengeance
known as ‘Kaidan nobori ryû’, ‘The Tattooed Swordswoman’ and ‘Black Cat’s
Revenge’, this is unusual action fare from director Teruo Ishii. Meiko Kaji,
who went on to star as Lady Snowblood, cuts her teeth – and several villains’
major arteries – as Akemi, the head of the Tachibana Clan. In the opening rain
swept swordfight, she accidentally blind’s Aiko (Hoki Tokuda), the younger
sister of Yakuza clan leader Boss Goda. After a three-year stretch in prison,
Akemi returns to her role as Tachibana leader, but fears she’s been cursed by a
black cat – the animal licked the bloody eyes of blinded Aiko as she lay in
agony. Upon their release from prison, Akemi’s five cellmates join her clan –
having acquired dragon’s tail tattoos to match their leader’s. The arrival of a
blind swordswoman at a rival clan results in the Tachibana gang girls suddenly
developing a high mortality rate. The murdered corpses of Akemi’s cellmates are
found, one by one, with the dragon tattoos gruesomely sliced from their back.
It a plot twist that surprises no one, the blind stranger is revealed to be Aiko
Goda, back to take revenge on Akemi. Following a violent, score-settling
encounter between the rival clans, a sword-swishing showdown of bloody
violence, the final duel between Akemi and Aiko is artfully lit against a
maelstrom swirl of night sky.
Woman’s Curse’ packs an awful lot into its 81 minutes and despite erratic
plotting is never dull. The cast is a gallery of grotesques and stock genre
characters. Beautiful Kaji is perfect as Akemi, though she’s underused here
compared to the ‘Lady Snowblood’ movies, which showcase her charisma and sword
fighting talent much better. Tatsumi Hijikata played the scarily strange
hunchback Ushimatsu, who behaves like a cat and is an unsettling presence
throughout. Makoto Satô was heroic Tani, Yôko Takagi (in her film debut) was
his lover Chie Mitsui – who are tortured by being thrown down a well – and
Yoshi Katô played Chie’s father Jutaro, who is beheaded but returns as a reanimated
deadman brought back to life by the hunchback. The warring gangs scenario
recalls Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Yojimbo’ (1961), but Ishii populates his underworld
with Yakuza gangsters with questionable personal hygiene, cocky gang bosses, assassins,
traitors and human scum. The story also veers off into weird moments of
suspense and horror, with bizarro theatre presentations, nightmarish allusions
to cannibalism, references to the opium trade, drug-hooked pleasure girls,
torture sequences and shades of Peckinpah and Poe.
of the costumes are fairly out there – check out one gangster’s bowler hat and red
loincloth combo – while the fight choreography by Masatoshi Takase is riveting.
Despite ‘Blind Woman’s Curse’s visual splendour and cult movie oddness, I’ve a
nagging feeling that the rest of the film never quite matches its magnificent title
sequence, as Akemi and her five henchmen fight the Godo clan, in muddy, rain-drenched
slow-motion. Each of the Tachibana fighters has part of a dragon tattooed
across their backs, with Akemi as the head, her men as the tail. The eerily melodic
music of Hajime Kaburagi plays delicately against the balletic bloodletting,
and the cat’s ocular blood-feast is an unsettling climax to the scene.
summary: Swift swordplay, much blood. Highly recommended.
·New high definition
digital transfer of the film prepared by Nikkatsu Studios
·Presented in High
Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD
·Uncompressed mono PCM
·Newly translated English
·Audio commentary by
Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp, author of ‘Behind the Pink Curtain’
·The Original Trailer
(which includes alternate takes from shots used in the film)
·Trailers for four of the
films in the Meiko Kaji-starring ‘Stray Cat Rock’ series, made at Nikkatsu:
‘Wild Jumbo’, ‘Sex Hunter’, ‘Machine Animal’ and ‘Beat ‘71’.
featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
featuring new writing on the film by Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes,
illustrated with original archive stills.
The Blu-ray/DVD edition of ‘Blind Woman’s
Curse’ is available now, in Region B/2 format, rated certificate 15.
George Pal’s “The Time Machine” (1960) is an iconic
science-fiction movie.For more than a
half-century, from the big screen to perennial TV broadcasts to a wide range of
home-video formats, it has rarely been out of sight or beyond reach.On the other hand, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s
“Dune” is famous among SF and cinema aficionados precisely because it is
unobtainable.It was conceptualized but
Both films, the real and the phantom, are highlighted
in new Blu-ray products released coincidentally this month on the same day,
Pal’s movie, adapted from the classic 1895 H.G. Wells
novel, is nostalgically remembered by us “monster kids” of the Space Age
generation. My formative viewing was my
first, as a 10-year-old watching the film in a theater on its initial
release. The new Blu-ray edition from
Warner Home Video offered the chance to sit down and give the movie careful
attention again, not simply snatch glimpses of favorite scenes in occasional
I was particularly curious to see if Pal’s vision held
up against criticisms that the film is too old-fashioned for today’s younger
audiences yet too much of a kiddie movie for adults, that it plays too fast and
loose with the revered novel, that the technical effects are hopelessly
antiquated in today’s CGI world. I’m
happy to say with benefit of grown-up critical acumen that the movie didn’t
disappoint. The visual elements and
production values were as polished and engaging as I remembered them, the
script by David Duncan was thoughtful, inventive, and fundamentally respectful
to Wells, and the actors hit all the right notes in their performances with
old-school professionalism and charm.
Among Wells purists, it’s widely asserted that Pal’s
“The Time Machine” betrays the novel because it deviates from Wells’ basic,
thought-provoking speculation about humanity’s evolutionary destiny and
simplifies his conception of the far-future world of 802,701 to which the Time
Machine travels. The protagonist of the
novel, referred to only as the Time Traveler, finds that our distant
descendants have separated into two new species. The indolent, physically childlike Eloi live
in leisure aboveground in a communal society, apparently without industry or
government. The brutish Morlocks lurk
underground, able to come out only in dusk or darkness.
The Time Traveler theorizes that the two species are
the evolutionary outcome of social divisions that began in his own time, when
the idle rich and the miserable urban poor began to draw further and further
apart. He comes to realize that the Eloi
are no more than “mere fatted cattle” whose clothes and food are provided by
the Morlocks. The underground people
sustain the Eloi for the ultimate purpose of eating them.
In the movie, the dynamic between the two species, the
eater and the eaten, remains the same. However, in the movie’s version of 802,701, the Time Traveler, George
(Rod Taylor), discovers that the Eloi and Morlocks divided as the result of war
and devastation over eons, not class differences. As repeated attacks and reprisals with
nuclear and chemical weapons poisoned the surface of the earth, societies fled
underground to survive. One branch of
humanity eventually returned to the surface after nature recovered, and the
other remained below. George learns this
history from recordings on “talking rings” that he finds in a ruined museum to
which the Eloi guide him.
Given that the social concerns of 1895 were unlikely to
pull American audiences of 1960 into their local movie houses, it’s difficult
to fault Pal and Duncan for updating the story to reflect the more compelling
contemporary fear of A-bomb and H-bomb annihilation. Pausing in the year 1966, George barely
escapes the strike of an “atomic satellite” that destroys London, a frightening
image then and still a disturbing one now. In hindsight, this apocalyptic vision gives the movie its own flavor as
social documentary that tells today’s youngsters more about the mindset of the
Cold War than any dry textbook. And it
also provides a framework for the overall story that, arguably, tightens its
dramatic structure for the screen.
Where Wells’ Time Traveler was motivated by scientific
curiosity, Taylor’s character wants to escape his own era. Scanning headlines of military mobilization
for the Boer War, he says, “I don’t much care for the time I was born
into. People aren’t dying fast enough
these days. They call upon science to
invent a new, more efficient weapon to depopulate the earth.” He sets off from 1899 to find a more
congenial future, but in visiting 1917, 1940, and 1966, he discovers that
societies will only continue to seek “more effective means of destroying each
other.” The Eloi and the Morlocks are
the logical outcome. In 802,701, he
watches as the Eloi dazedly march to their doom in the Morlock underworld
through the open door of a sinister Great Sphinx (splendid visualization of a
key image from the novel). They are hypnotically lured by the same wail of sirens
that herded Londoners into their bomb shelters in 1966.
Whether Duncan wandered too far from Wells’ model is
mostly a matter of personal taste (and in the novel, Wells’ narrative leaves
open the possibility that the Time Traveler’s class theory is the likely
explanation but not necessarily the right one). As an artistic question, credit Duncan and Pal for incorporating their
changes skillfully and thoughtfully. For
that matter, Wells himself may have approved had he lived long enough to
consult with the moviemakers: in later years, he increasingly brooded on the
threat of humanity destroying itself in global war, as dramatized in his own
script for the venerable 1936 movie “Things to Come,” directed by William Cameron
Fortunately, the movie’s prediction of atomic wipeout
in 1966 was never realized, but its anticipation of the Eloi society as
mop-haired, passive blond teens (another modification from Wells’ conception,
but not completely different, if you read the book closely) seems
inspired. By the end of the decade,
Pal’s Eloi had arrived in the form of the Boomers’ hippie, surfer, and stoner
Should you invest in the new Blu-ray edition? That may depend on whether or not you’re a
completest who wants “The Time Machine” in every available
video format. By and large, the color
and clarity of the image appears to be incrementally better than the earlier
DVD, released by Warner in 2000 -- I’ll leave that judgment to consumers with a
sharper eye and higher-end equipment than mine -- but the package doesn’t
expand on the earlier DVD extras of the movie’s theatrical trailer and a
The latter, “The Time Machine: The Journey Back,”
originally produced for TV in 1993, features then-new interviews with Taylor,
co-star Alan Young, and the movie’s creative FX technicians, and a skit with
Taylor, Young, and supporting actor Whit Bissell. The skit apparently incorporated material
that Pal developed for a never-produced sequel. The veteran technicians’ remarks about the
movie’s stop-motion, time-lapse, matte, and other pre-CGI effects are
fascinating, and it’s heartening to see talented movie people enthusiastically
describe their creative work and speak fondly of their colleagues, but if you have
the DVD, you have the featurette.
Click here to order the Warner Home Video Blu-ray from
"Batman", the classic 1960s TV series, is finally coming to home video after years of legal complications. Warner Home Video will release on Blu-ray and DVD on November 11.
The set will contain all 120 remastered episodes of the the three seasons the show ran and will contain a Batcave full of extras. Among them: a Hotwheels replica of the Batmobile, a letter from Adam West and photos derived from his personal scrapbook and replicas of vintage trading cards.
For more, including a promotional preview, click here.
Arbor's life is rough. He's 13, he's on medication to
control his mood swings, his brother is a drug addict, and his mother owes
money to everybody in the neighborhood. But as bad as Arbor's home life may be,
his friend Swifty's life is worse. At Swifty's, the family's furniture has been
repossessed. There's no place to sit but on the floor. He spends most of his
nights at Arbor's, where there are chairs.
During the day, Swifty and Arbor endure classes they
have no use for. They wander around town. They get into fights. The town they
live in seems bereft of life. The only sound one hears at night is the humming
of nearby power lines. You might call it 'working class,' but no one is
working. This is the world of The Selfish
Giant, a stirring new film from UK writer/director Clio Barnard.
Arbor and Swifty are the type of inseparable mates that
are only seen in childhood. They need each other, if only because no one else
wants them. Arbor, a terror who loses his temper often, mouths off to teachers
and other adults, feeling there is nothing they can do to him that is any worse
than the poverty he lives in. He seems unlikable at first, the sort of kid you
don't know what to do with, but over time he reveals a strangely adult side. When his older brother and stressed mother seem
too incapacitated to look after themselves, Ardor practically assumes the
"man of the house" role.
to Swifty is also admirable. One afternoon, when he sees Swifty being picked
on, Arbor boldly leaves his classroom and assaults the bully. The resulting
fight sees Arbor and Swifty being kicked out of school. This is ok with them,
for they've discovered a way to make money by collecting roadside junk for a
local scrap dealer, a foul-mouthed lug named Kitten (Sean Gilder). Kitten seems
like a character out of Dickens, putting kids to work for him in what is
obviously an illegal operation. Kitten isn't impressed with the boys, until he
learns that Swifty has a way with horses. Kitten owns a trotting horse that he
hopes to enter in local contests, and he needs Swifty to work with him. As
Swifty becomes Kitten's favorite, Arbor finds himself being pushed aside.
Connor Chapman is brilliant as Arbor, and ultimately
won me over. He's resourceful when he's out on the road scrapping, and isn't
afraid of trying for things beyond his reach, including cable from the always
menacing power lines. He's as world-weary as a 13-year-old can be; he's never
been a child. He seems to have born angry, and ready to fight. Shaun Thomas is
also very fine as Swifty, a sensitive boy who is big enough to throw a punch,
but needs a little coaxing from Arbor, and would probably rather be in a barn
with the horses, anyway.
The Selfish Giant isn't an easy movie. The squalor is
unsettling. The northern England accents are so thick that the movie has
subtitles. The characters aren't always likable. The climax is upsetting, the
ending a little vague. Still, it's a
strong film, and I felt affection for the two boys. There's a scene where they
receive their first pay from the scrap dealer. Arbor asks Swifty if he can now
buy back some of the furniture his family had to give up. When Swifty nods yes, Arbor's smile lights up the screen.
He couldn't have been any happier if he'd won the lottery. The film says
otherwise, but Arbor's smile almost makes you think that something as simple as
friendship can conquer any hardship.
On a side note, there's been a persistent meme that the
movie is based on an Oscar Wilde story of the same name. Trust me, it’s not “a modern reworking” of
anything, as several reviewers have tried to say. The Wilde story is about a
literal giant who finds a child in his garden who turns out to be Christ. While Bernard acknowledges that her movie is a
fable, the influence of Wilde’s story is very loose. Bernard, who is interested
in stories from the area where the movie was made, described her Selfish Giant
as a “re-telling of a fairy tale based on fact.” Maybe Wilde’s influence is in there, but
there’s also a bit of The Bicycle Thieves
and The 400 Blows. (For those
curious about Wilde’s story, there was an animated version that aired on
Canadian television in 1972.)
Bernard’s movie was nominated for a BAFTA Award this
year for Best British Film. It lost to Gravity. I would've voted for The Selfish Giant.
Now on DVD from MPI Home Video, the extra features
include interviews with the director and cast, plus deleted scenes.
particular kind of film was popular in, and almost unique to, the 1970s.I would call them “A-minus” movies.Not quite “A” because they didn’t feature
trendy mega-stars like Newman, Redford, McQueen, Eastwood, Streisand, or
Beatty, but not quite “B” either.Typically, they were international packages that starred a mix of
American actors who, although past the peak of their popularity, still retained
some marquee appeal for older moviegoers, and European actors who would draw
overseas audiences.They usually were
built around B-movie crime, spy, and thriller stories, but bigger-budgeted and
more sophisticated than the standard “B,” and filmed on European locations, not
a studio backlot in Culver City.
Verneuil’s “Le Casse” (1971),” released in the States by Columbia Pictures in
1972 as “The Burglars,” exemplifies the genre -- French director; on-location
filming in Greece; score by Ennio Morricone; the names of Jean-Paul Belmondo,
Omar Sharif, and Dyan Cannon above the title; an able supporting cast of Robert
Hossein (“Les Uns et Les Autres”), Renato Salvatori (“Luna”), and Nicole Calfan
(“Borsalino”); and a script by Verneuil and Vahé Katcha based on David
Goodis’ 1953 paperback crime noir, “The Burglar.”
had recently aced a big hit in Europe and a modest hit in the U.S. with “Le
Clan des Siciliens” (1969), also known as “The Sicilian Clan.” “The Sicilian Clan” is relatively easy to
find in a sharp print on home video and TV (there was a 2007 Region 2 DVD, a
2014 Region 2 Blu-ray, and periodic airings on Fox Movie Channel). Unfortunately for A-minus aficionados, “The
Burglars” is more elusive in a really good, English-language video print.
thief Azad (Belmondo) and his partners (Hossein, Salvatori, and Calfan) have
cased a villa in Athens whose jet-setting owners are away on vacation. A safe in the house holds a million dollars
in emeralds. The thieves break into the
house, crack the safe, and make off with the jewels, but two glitches
arise. First, a police detective,
Zacharias (Sharif), spots the burglars’ car in front of the villa. Azad chats with the detective and spins a
cover story of being a salesman with engine trouble. Zacharias leaves, but it seems like too easy
an out for the thieves.
the plan to flee Greece immediately on a merchant ship falls through. The gang arrives at the dock and finds the
ship undergoing repairs: “Storm damage. It will be ready to sail in five days.” They stash the money, split up, and agree to
wait out the delay. Zacharias reappears,
playing cat-and-mouse with the burglars. He’s found the opportunity to cash out big. Offered a meager reward by the billionaire
owner of the jewels and “10 percent of the value” by the insurance company, he
decides he’ll do better by finding and keeping the emeralds himself. In the meantime, Azad meets and romances
Lena, a vacationing centerfold model (Cannon), whose role in the story turns
out to be more relevant than it first seems.
novel was filmed once before as “The Burglar” (1957), a modestly budgeted,
black-and-white programmer with Dan Duryea, Jayne Mansfield, and Martha
Vickers, directed by Paul Wendkos. The
script by Goodis himself, the photography in gritty Philadelphia and Atlantic
City, Duryea’s hangdog performance, and Mansfield’s surprisingly vulnerable
acting faithfully captured the bleak spirit of the novel.
the story as a shinier A-minus, Verneuil made significant changes. Duryea’s character, Nat Harbin, runs ragged
trying to keep his fractious gang together and protect his ward Gladden, the
young female member of the team, whose father had been Harbin’s own
mentor. Verneuil tailors the
corresponding character Azad to Belmondo’s exuberant, athletic personality and
changes the dynamic between Azad and Helene, Calfan’s character. Where Gladden is brooding and troubled,
Helene seems to be well-adjusted if somewhat flighty. When Nat realizes that he loves Gladden, it
comes too late to save their doomed relationship. Azad and Helene find a happier
resolution. The opportunistic cop in the
novel and earlier movie, Charley, has little interaction with Harbin, but
Belmondo and Sharif share ample screen time and charm as the two equally wily
antagonists. Their final showdown in a
grain-storage warehouse brings to mind, of all classic movie references, the
climactic scene in Carl Dreyer’s “Vampyr” (1932).
the technical details of the story, Verneuil turns the safecracking into a
lengthy scene in which Azad uses a high-tech, punch-card gizmo to visually scan
the scan the safe’s inner workings and manufacture a key that will open
it. Roger Greenspun’s June 15, 1972,
review in “The New York Times” took a dim view of Verneuil’s meticulous,
step-by-step depiction: “Such a machine might excite the envy of James Bond's
armorer, or the delight of Rube Goldberg. But what it does for Henri Verneuil is to fill up a great deal of film
time with a device rather than with an action.” In fact, Verneuil was simply paying homage to similar, documentarian
scenes in John Huston’s “The Asphalt Jungle” (1949) and Jules Dassin’s “Rififi”
(1955) -- incidentally, one of Robert Hossein’s early films -- and at the same
time avoiding repetition by employing the kind of Space Age gadget that
fascinated 007 fans in the early ‘70s.
also objected to “an endless (and pointless) car chase,” but the chase,
choreographed by Rémy Julienne, isn’t exactly pointless: it adds an overlay of
menace to the second, verbally cordial meeting of Azad and Zacharias. Besides, in the era of “Bullitt” (1968) and “The French Connection”
(1971), a car chase in a crime film was good box office, as Verneuil certainly
knew. The chase isn’t shot and edited as
electrically as the ones staged by Bill Hickman for Peter Yates and William
Friedkin, but it’s easily as entertaining as Julienne’s stunts for the Bond
Morricone’s eclectic score includes a jazzy, Europop-inflected title tune;
dreamy easy-listening background music in the hotel cafe where Azad and Lena
meet cute; sultry music in a sex club where Morricone seems to be channeling
Mancini and Bachrach; and airy, Manos Hatzidakis-style string music in a Greek
restaurant where Azad and Zacharias meet. It’s an inventive score, but not as well known as some of Morricone’s
others, perhaps because it borrows so freely (with an affectionate wink and a
nod) from his contemporaries.
are a couple of versions of “The Burglars” as the French-language “Le Casse” on
YouTube, only one of them letterboxed, and neither with English subtitles. Web sources indicate that Sony released the
German-language version of the film, “Der Coup,” for the German DVD market in
2011; some say it includes English subtitles, others say it doesn’t. There was a letterboxed Alfa Digital edition
of “The Burglars” in 2007 for the collectors’ market, and a letterboxed print
occasionally runs on Turner Classic Movies. Those are probably the best bets for an English-track, properly
widescreen (2:35-1) print, although in both cases the colors are muddy, dulling
the bright cinematography by Claude Renoir that I remember seeing on the big
screen in 1972.
Sharif, and Cannon probably have little name recognition among younger viewers
today, and a scene in which Azad slaps Lena around, activating a clapper that
cuts the lights in Lena’s apartment and then turns them back on with each slap,
would never be included in a modern film. On the other hand, the mixture of crime, car chase, and romance might
pique the interest of today’s “Fast & Furious” fans. In fact, with some rewriting (and further
separation from Goodis’ noir universe), it could easily be remade as a future
installment in the franchise, with Belmondo’s Azad repositioned as Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto, and Sharif’s
Zacharias rewritten and softened as Dwayne Johnson’s Agent Luke Hobbs.
heartening that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has begun to move older
Columbia genre releases from its vaults to DVD and cable TV, often in
first-rate condition. For example, a
pristine print of “Thunder on the Border” (1966) ran recently on GetTV, Sony’s
cable outlet for the Columbia vault. As
another example, “Hurricane Island” (1951) has aired on Turner Classic Movies
in perfectly transferred or restored Supercinecolor. It would be nice to see Sony offer a
comparably refurbished print of “The Burglars” on American Blu-ray. If nothing else, the movie’s 45th Anniversary
is only a year and a half away.
Warner Home Video, in association with Paramount Pictures, is commemorating the 50th anniversary of Jerry Lewis' "The Nutty Professor" with the release of a deluxe Blu-ray gift set. The film is understandably Lewis' personal favorite- and with good reason. His clever comedic take on the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde legend remains a remarkably inventive and funny film, with Lewis not only in the director's chair, but also giving a tour-de-force performance as the nerdy academic who manages to transform himself into a different kind of "monster"- a suave lady's man with a huge ego and no regard for the people in his life. In a personal letter included in the set, Lewis states: "This is a very special film with a lot of heart and soul. I thoroughly enjoyed the writing, directing, acting, editing, scoring and extensive promotion of the film. It is what I always dreamed of doing when I was growing up, watching Charlie Chaplin on the big screen. I am so happy to offer the unique elements of this collection for the first time, and I'm thankful to Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures for the opportunity to collaborate on this great release of 'The Nutty Professor', my very special child."
Warner Home Video has packed the set with many impressive bonus extras, some of which have been released previously and some of which are new to this set. They include:
"Jerry Lewis: No Apologies"- a new documentary about his life and career.
A specially written letter commemorating the anniversary.
Phoney Phone Calls 1959-1972- an audio CD of prank calls made by Lewis.
48 page book of original storyboards
44 page cutting script with notes by Lewis
Behind the scenes footage
Promo footage of Lewis and co-star Stella Stevens
Original mono tracks
two bonus feature films: "Cinderfella" and "The Errand Boy", both with bonus extras including audio commentary tracks by Lewis and entertainer Steve Lawrence.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Shout! Factory:
A visionary creator unlike any other, with
a passion for unveiling truths about nature and existence by blurring the line
between reality and fiction, Werner Herzog is undoubtedly one of cinema’s most controversial
and enigmatic figures. Audiences the world over have marveled at his uniquely
moving, often disturbing, but always awe-inspiring stories, and his ever-growing
body of work has inspired an untold number of filmmakers. He is, and continues
to be, the most daring filmmaker of our time.
In celebration of this cinematic
vanguard, Shout! Factory will release Herzog: The Collection on July 29th,
2014. Limited to 5,000 copies, the 13-disc box set features 16
acclaimed films and documentaries, 15 of which are making their Blu-ray debuts.
Herzog: The Collection also features
a 40 page booklet that includes photos, an essay by award-winning author
Stephen J. Smith, and in-depth film synopses by Herzog scholars Brad Prager and
Chris Wahl. Bonus features include English and German audio commentaries, the
documentaries Herzog in Africa and Portrait: Werner Herzog, interviews and
original theatrical trailers.
The first 100 fans to order their copies from ShoutFactory.com will
receive a copy autographed by Werner Herzog himself. As an addition
bonus, box sets ordered directly through ShoutFactory.com will be shipped three
weeks before street date. Collectors can place their orders now by visiting https://www.shoutfactory.com/product/herzog-collection-limited-edition .
has taken his camera to parts of the world no other director would dare go, and
told stories in ways previously unconsidered. These sixteen masterpieces, which
blur the line between "fiction" and "documentary,"
illustrate why Werner Herzog is the most intrepid, creative, and dangerous
filmmaker of our lifetime.
The Collection includes:
Even Dwarfs Started
Land of Silence and
Aguirre, the Wrath
The Enigma of
Heart of Glass
Ballad of the Little
Where the Green
Lessons of Darkness
Little Dieter Needs
My Best Fiend
Audio Commentaries: Even Dwarfs
Started Small, Fata Morgana, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Heart of Glass, Strozek and Cobra Verde.
Audio commentaries: Nosferatu the
Vampyre, Fitzcarraldo, Where the Green Ants Dream.
- Werner Herzog and Laurens Straub (in German with English Subtitles)
This summer, in between watching Godzilla and the Transformers wreaking havoc on the earth, you might pause and remind yourself that every now and then a worthwhile movie is released that deals with real people and real-life situations. Granted, it's hard to find such fare in theaters- at least until Oscar season- but there is an abundance of fine, largely undiscovered films available on-demand and on home video. Sony Pictures Choice Collection has re-released one such title as a burn-to-order DVD. "Owning Mahowny" is a 2003 Canadian film that won plenty of praise and awards "North O' the Border" when it was nominated for numerous Genies (the Canadian equivalent of the Oscars.) Based on a true story that was evidently a bit of a sensation in the early 1980s, the story centers of Dan Mawhowny (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a relatively nondescript mid manager at a Toronto bank. Mahowny is respected for his dedication to the bank, his reliability and his talent for putting together important bank loans in a charming, low-key manner that gains the trust of high profile clients. For his efforts Mahowny is promoted and given oversight of the bank's largest loans. He does a good job, too, impressing the top brass by continuing to convince well-heeled people in the business community to take out large loans through his bank branch. Mahowny's personal life is equally nondescript. He lives modestly, drives an old clunker of a car and has a devoted girlfriend, Belinda (Minnie Driver), who he is about to move in with. All seems well- except Mahowny is harboring a troubling secret. He is addicted to illegal sports betting and has run up sizable debts with the local bookie, a sleazy character named Frank Perlin (Maury Chaykin). In desperation, Mahowny falls into the inevitable trap of all gambling addicts: in order to pay off the debt, he borrows even more and takes riskier bets hoping to strike it big. Meanwhile, he has to maintain a normal life at work and with Belinda. Soon, however, he crosses an ethical line when, by virtue of his new powers at the bank, he finds he can manipulate customer loan accounts and take large sums for himself. Like all gambling addicts, he justifies his actions by convincing himself that he is only "borrowing" the funds and will repay them before anyone notices. However, Mahowny hits a major losing streak that causes him such emotional distress that even Belinda begins to suspect the real truth. He becomes evasive and inattentive, consumed by the daily challenge of covering up his crimes even as he diverts more and more money into his own accounts. In desperation, he makes trips to Atlantic City, where his sizable losings gain him the personal attention of the casino manager, a manipulative, greedy man named Victor Foss (John Hurt). Foss recognizes a sucker when he sees one and lavishes high roller perks on Mahowny to ensure he continues to to lose his money at Foss's casino. Mahowny does stray one time: on a trip to Las Vegas, where he ends up with the potential to walk away with $9 million in winnings. However, like everything in Mahowny's life, he seizes defeat from the jaws of victory.
"Owning Mahowny" came and went at the American boxoffice with a barely noticeable blip. However, it is a highly engrossing film and is brilliantly enacted by Hoffman and the supporting cast. Had the film received more exposure in America, he would certainly have nailed down an Oscar nomination. Director Richard Kwietnioski builds almost unbearable suspense as we watch Mahowny having to deftly avoid being discovered by bank auditors, his own bosses and law enforcement, as his "borrowings" run into millions. The film is also impressive for the fact that the story remains set in the early 1980s and the production team does a fine job of recreating this long-gone, pre-internet era. The supporting cast impresses throughout with Driver doing fine work as the long-suffering girlfriend who won't give up on Mahowny. Hurt is a villain in the classic movie style, all charm and graciousness on the exterior, but with a Machiavellian nature underneath. Maury Chaykin, looking as scruffy and repugnant as porn star Ron Jeremy, is particularly good in this film, as the man who holds the key to Mahowny's fate.
This is first-rate movie making. You probably missed the film in theaters, but don't fail to view it on the Sony DVD. The only gripe is that the film calls out for bonus extras, especially when it comes to delving into the real James Mahowny, who became quite prominent in gambling circles after his case made the press. However, the DVD is sans any bonus extras at all.
Twilight Time has released the Fox WWI epic The Blue Max as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray. The studio had excelled in producing excellent war movies during the 1960s and early 1970s including The Longest Day, The Sand Pebbles, Tora! Tora! Tora! and Patton. The Blue Max has not remained as revered as those films but in many ways it is no less impressive. By 1966, the year the film was released, WWI had been largely ignored by Hollywood in favor WWII films. Not only was that conflict far more recent, unlike the complex issues that made "The War to End All Wars" a reality, the forces of good and evil were much easier to define in WWII. Prior to The Blue Max, the most ambitious relatively recent WWI film had been Kubrick's Paths of Glory, released almost a decade before. The Blue Max was based on the bestselling novel by Jack Hunter, who felt there were still shards of chivalry during the WWI era that would ultimately be replaced by the sheer barbarism of the second world war. The protagonist of the story is Lt. Bruno Stachel, a lowly infantryman who decides to rise above the horrors of trench warfare in favor of the German air corps. He arrives at his barracks and immediately isolates his fellow squadron mates with his arrogant and conceited nature. Stachel has a chip on his shoulder: unlike most of the other pilots, he is not a dilettante and comes from a very modest social background. The squadron's hero is Willi von Klugerman (Jeremy Kemp), who is acknowledged as their flying ace. Willi is also the recipient of the coveted Blue Max, Germany's highest decoration for courage in combat. In order to earn the medal, a pilot must have twenty verifiable "kills" of enemy aircraft. Although Stachel and Willi form a friendship, it has shaky foundations. Willi knows that Stachel's obsession is to outperform him and also be awarded the Blue Max. The rivalry between the two men extends to their personal lives: they are both bedding Countess Kaeti von Klugerman (Ursula Andress), the vivacious wife of Willi's uncle, the influential General General Count von Klugerman (superbly played by James Mason). Willi enjoys making humorous references to his lover as "my aunt". With Stachel's appearance, however, things become complicated, as Kaeti, who enjoys an open marriage with her husband, is free to indulge in her fantasies of bedding air aces and turning them into rivals. Stachel's valor in the skies earns him the respect, if not affection, of his comrades and General von Klugerman engages in a campaign of deception in order to build up morale by making Stachel a "working class hero" for propaganda purposes. In doing so, both men cross ethical lines by awarding Stachel "kills" he did not earn, much to the disgust of Stachel's commanding officer (Karl Michael Vogler), a man who represents old world military honor and integrity.
While the bedroom aspects of The Blue Max are compelling, it is the aerial sequences that dominate the film. They are brilliantly photographed by Douglas Slocombe and are set to Jerry Goldsmith's impressive and atmospheric musical score. The film, shot in Ireland (doubling for France) features several incredible dogfights and stunt flying sequences that are never less than thrilling. With America's late entry into the war, German fortunes diminish and the ragtag squadron's attack on advancing Allied infantry forces is epic in scope. Director John Guillerman, long underrated by the way, deftly weaves the action on the battlefield with the action in the boudoir and is helped significantly by the intelligent screenplay which has a highly creative and satisfying climax that improves upon the ending of the book and calls to mind the old adage from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
If there is a flaw in the film it is that there is no one other than Karl Michael Vogler's supporting character to cheer for. Stachler is a shameless opportunist without respect for anyone around him. George Peppard fulfills the basic requirements of the role: he's handsome and cocky, but the character is underwritten. If you are going to have a heel as the central protagonist, he must be embellished with some likable qualities aside from hunky good looks. Consider Paul Newman in Hud and The Hustler: two equally selfish characters, but both of whom had enough redeeming values to make you at least occasionally like them. Similarly, the sexual predator played by Andress is also a despicable person on a moral basis, as she enjoys playing her lovers against each other and reducing her husband to the role of cuckolded spouse. As for the General, he, too, is an opportunist who willingly trashes military protocol to create a national hero based on exaggerations and lies. As for Kemp's character, Willi, he is a genuine hero, but also an elitist snob with a superiority complex who will go to any length to retain his status of golden boy of his squadron. With this pack of knaves and rogues dominating the screen, it's hard to feel empathy for any of them.
Guillerman provides some haunting clues regarding the consequences of Germany's fortunes, as it becomes obvious to the main characters that the war is lost. In a sequence set in Berlin, the military brass and their wives continue to live and dine in opulence, oblivious to the fact that the citizenry is forming soup kitchens and engaging in bread riots. The General's babble about retaining the integrity of the military in order to prevent revolution is filled with hypocrisy because he is deceiving the German people through his phony propaganda campaigns. Similar tactics, of course, would be key to the rise of National Socialism in the 1930s.
Unlike the other Fox war movies mentioned previously, the film's cachet among retro movie lovers seems to have diminished over the years. It deserves to be re-evaluated and enjoyed by anyone who respects the kind of old fashioned, roadshow epics they just don't make any more. The Blue Max is superb on many levels and had a great impression on future directors George Lucas and Peter Jackson (who salvaged and restored Peppard's plane from the film!).
The Twilight Time release is one of the most impressive we've seen from this company, with a flawless transfer that does justice to this rich-looking film. The set includes the usual, informative liner notes by Julie Kirgo, an isolated audio track of Goldsmith's score and a second track with alternative music and commentary by Kirgo and fellow film historians Nick Redman and Jon Burligame. A theatrical trailer is also included.
critic described it as a “kinky fairy tale,” which is quite apt. It’s also a
love story, a crime thriller, a road movie, and one of director Lynch’s
signature works. Made at a time when the public and critical acclaim of Lynch’s
innovative and striking television series, Twin
Peaks (co-created by Mark Frost), was at its peak, Wild at Heart represents some of the director’s most bravura
filmmaking. In other words, he was on a roll during this period, only to hit an
unfortunate snag when the Twin Peaks movie,
Fire Walk With Me, was released in
1992 to public and critical derision. (However, that particular film will be reassessed
and discussed further in the coming weeks with the release of the entire Twin Peaks saga on Blu-ray, along with
ninety minutes of footage deleted from Fire
Walk With Me. This material is the “holy grail” for Peaks fanatics.)
on a novel by Barry Gifford, Wild at
Heart follows the story of Sailor (Nicolas Cage) and Lulu (Laura Dern)—their
passionate and rock ‘n’ roll love for each other, and their pursuit across a
surreal America by Lulu’s mother and her various henchmen. The movie is
violent, colorful, sexy, loud, tender, and a hell of a lot of fun. This might
be the closest thing Lynch ever got to making a comedy, but there are a lot of laughs in Wild at Heart, as well as a number of disturbing and shocking bits
that are the director’s trademarks. In many ways, Lynch is an American heir to
Luis Buñuel, the master of surrealism in cinema.
Lynch loves the dream world, and this obsession is reflected in all of his
important works. One fine example is the scene in which Sailor and Lulu stop in
the middle of a highway at night because an isolated, recent car accident blocks
the way. There, they meet a survivor, played by Peaks alumnus Sherilyn Fenn, whose dazed and confused monologue
makes the sequence one of the director’s most haunting.
Cage and Dern are terrific. Dern especially sells the movie with her sensuality
and wild-child persona. Dern’s real-life mother, Diane Ladd, was nominated for
a Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Lulu’s evil mom, portrayed in the
film as something akin to the Wicked Witch of the West. In fact, references to The Wizard of Oz abound, as do nods to
Elvis Presley, personified by Sailor’s fascination and mimicry of the singer.
Other Lynch regulars show up—Harry Dean Stanton, Jack Nance, Grace Zabriskie,
Isabella Rossellini, Crispin Glover, Sheryl Lee—but the scariest guy in the
picture is Willem Dafoe as “Bobby Peru,” a truly creepy hit man.
Time has released a limited Blu-ray edition (3,000 units) which appears to be a port over
from the U.S. MGM/UA (Fox Home Video) edition. The transfer looks good, but it
doesn’t appear to have undergone a restoration. All the extras are the same—a
thirty minute documentary on the making of the film, deleted scenes,
interviews, a vintage making-of film, two short pieces with Lynch, a number of
TV spots, and trailer. New for the Blu-ray is an isolated music track, so you
can just listen to Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting score, along with the bounty
of rock ‘n’ roll numbers like Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” if you want.
any rate, David Lynch’s take on the classic “lovers on the run” theme is well
worth the ride. As Dern’s Lulu proudly announces, it’s “hotter than Georgia
asphalt.” Just be careful—you might get blisters.
(This title has sold out at the distributor, Screen Archives. Click here for availability on Amazon)
I remember a kid in my old neighborhood who owned a Ken
doll. Ken, you may remember, was the sexually ambiguous boyfriend of the
infinitely more famous Barbie. If that wasn’t weird enough, this kid kept his
Ken doll in a state of near nudity, stripping off his safari gear until poor
Ken was down to a pair of bright red swimming trunks. The kid would walk around
the neighborhood with his near naked Ken doll tucked under his arm, and
occasionally visit my yard, where I and my Neanderthal pals were having fun
with our far more manly “action figures,” which included the likes of GI Joe,
and Stretch Armstrong. Ken wasn’t a
natural fit – he was too small, his hair too perfect, and he was always
smiling. The kid claimed that if you left Ken in the sun for a while, he’d
actually get a tan. We eventually let the boy join us because we didn’t figure
Ken would last long, not with the way we brutalized our toys. Yet, as we
dragged our guys through the mud and hurled them from rooftops, Ken showed
surprising durability. Barbie hadn’t totally emasculated him, after all. Then, a fat kid named Bobby Harris showed up
with an Evel Knievel doll, perhaps the toughest damned toy in the history of mankind,
and all bets were off. Ken joined GI Joe
and the others in immediate obsolescence.
I thought of that kid and his Ken doll while watching A
Brony Tale, a cute, good-hearted documentary about the surprising male
fandom surrounding ‘My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.’ The Pony program is made for young girls, but
apparently attracts everyone from military men to bikers. “Don’t underestimate the things that make you
happy,” says one of the movie’s more emotionally fragile fellows. He’d returned from military duty a depressed
wreck but was rejuvenated by his love of the animated show. His comment is
perhaps the most useful of the 97 minute feature, and he’s certainly more to
the point than the various grown men who drone about their right to enter a toy
store and buy something in the Pony aisle.
One practicing psychologist suggests the phenomenon of
“Bronies,” as the male fans are called, is a reaction to the post 9/11 decade,
and proposes these burly misfits are just trying to get away from the violence
and uncertainties of the past 10 years. Ok, maybe. No one understands better than me that pop
culture can help shield a person from what ails him. Yet, the spectacle of 200 Bronies gathering for a group hug strikes me as less about the alleged magical
elements of the show and more about lonely people trying something, anything,
to find a connection.
The movie loses steam in its middle, as director Brent
Hodge focuses on younger Bronies. Neither the junior high school fans nor the
older, college age fans add much to the story. When you’ve heard one melancholy loner tell
about the redemptive qualities of My Little Pony, you’ve heard them all.
The meat of the film involves Ashleigh Ball, the young
Canadian woman who provides the voices of Applejack and Rainbow Dash, two of My
Little Pony’s most beloved characters. Ball is slightly bewildered by the
show’s swelling fandom, and after attending a Brony convention in Manhattan,
she’s still slightly bewildered. She’s
involved in something with a power she hadn’t imagined – Ball was a voice over
artist who played in a band and took the Pony gig because it offered a
paycheck. Now, to her surprise (and discomfort?), Ball may end up as the
William Shatner of Brony world.
It’s disappointing that Hodge misses out on the most
obvious question: What do little girls think of these much older men who watch
the show? How do they feel when they go into a toy store only to learn that the
last available book of Rainbow Dash decals has been scooped up by some
38-year-old loser? I found it unfortunate that the Manhattan convention was
devoid of the show’s real target audience, and that Ball didn’t get to mingle
with some of the very young girls who would’ve loved meeting her. Instead,
she’s on a podium fielding questions from a bunch of depressed types who should
really be trying to bust out of their arrested puberty.
It’s also odd that no mention is made of the show’s
creators, illustrators, or producers, as if the program simply exists in a
vacuum. It’s impossible to imagine a
documentary about Star Wars fans that
didn’t mention George Lucas, but not a single Brony interviewed gives credit to
any creative types. Apparently, all that goes on in a Brony’s mind is his own
love for the show, his own needs, and his own impossibly sad depths that can
only be eased by a girly cartoon.
To Hodge’s credit, he doesn’t dwell on what could be
construed as the more prurient aspects of the story. He lets us think what we will of grown men who
are strangely attached to images of sweet little horses made to sound like
young girls. Is watching the show merely a safe way to stare at little girls,
to enter their innocent fantasies? I can’t say for certain. The old ‘Davey and
Goliath’ series offered positive messages, too, but I don’t recall a lot of
middle-aged guys being into it.
I’d never heard of ‘My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.’
From the clips in the documentary, it appears to be a friendly program about
girl ponies learning life lessons. It’s
a safe place to be, this world of pretty ponies, probably much nicer than a
muddy backyard in the suburbs, where an afternoon with your buddies might be
interrupted by a half-naked Ken doll.
TALE is the first title in the new
"Morgan Spurlock Presents” line of documentaries to be released by Virgil
Films in conjunction with Morgan Spurlock's Warrior Poets and theatrical
distributor Abramorama. It opens in select theaters on July 8 and will debut on Video on
Demand July 15.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
The year is
1964 and Beatlemania is in full
swing. The biggest band on the planet are about to make their big screen debut.
The film is A Hard Day’s Night, a seminal piece of filmmaking that shows The Beatles as they’ve never been seen before.
To celebrate its 50th Anniversary the film will be presented in a new 4k digital
restoration approved by director Richard
Lester, with three audio options - a
monoaural soundtrack in addition to newly created stereo and 5.1 surround mixes
supervised by sound producer Giles
Martinand engineer Sam Okellat Abbey Road Studios. The film will be in
and available to download from 4 July, followed by a special edition Blu-ray and
two-disc DVD release on 21 July 2014, courtesy of Second Sight Films.
A Hard Day’s Night will have an Extended
Run at BFI Southbank from 4 July
2014, with a special preview and talk with Richard
Lester on 3 July 2014. The UK theatrical release will be handled by
Director Richard Lester used
his experience of working on television adverts combined with slapstick comedy,
a nod to the French ‘New Wave’ movement and a documentary style, and alongside
screenwriter Alun Owen created a
unique and innovative film that went on to influence a whole generation of music
videos and films.
A Hard Day’s Night follows a ‘typical’ day in the life of the Fab Four as they
try to make it to their big show. As the title track roles we see John,
Paul, George and Ringo mobbed by a group of
fervent fans as they catch a train to London along with their manager
Norm (Norman Rossington – The Longest Day), his assistant Shake (John Junkin – Hooray For Laughter) and Paul’s troublesome Grandfather (Wilfred Bramble – Steptoe and Son).
A series of hilarious
escapades follow, with Grandfather bribing a butler for his clothes to go to a
casino, Ringo leaving the band to go solo and ending up in a police station and
John’s disagreements with a disgruntled TV producer (Victor Spinetti – Help).
Will the boy’s make it in time for their big concert?
This is all set to a
brilliant soundtrack of classic Beatles tracks including I Should
Have Known Better, And I Love Her, Tell Me Why,
If I Fell and Can't Buy Me Love, and features a stand out supporting cast
including comedienne Anna Quayle, cartoonist
Bob Godfrey, TV host Robin Ray, dancer Lionel Blair, Harrison's future wife Patti Boyd, and director Lester himself.
Bonus features include:
Their Own Voices’ - a new piece combining 1964 interviews with The Beatles
with behind-the-scenes footage and photos
Can’t Do That’: The Making of A Hard Day’s Night, a documentary by
producer Walter Shenson including an outtake performance by The Beatles
They Said Today’, a documentary about the film featuring director Richard
Lester, music producer George Martin, screenwriter Alun Owen and
cinematographer Gilbert Taylor
- a new piece about Richard Lester‘s early work featuring a new audio
interview with the director.
of a Style’ - a new piece on
Richard Lester‘s methods
(This review pertains to the BFI UK Blu-ray release on Region 2 format)
By Paul Risker
When François Truffaut ordained Werner Herzog, “The most
important filmmaker alive” wisdom would have suggested that there was not one film
within his body of work to stand out as his most important. Only a body of work
threaded together with consistency; a combination of great filmic works would
warrant such a claim.
the infliction of National Socialism on the German artistic tradition and
consciousness, Nosferatu the Vampyre is Werner Herzog reaching into the past to
reconnect with his true cinematic roots. The film that he looked to was not
only a masterpiece of German Expressionism, but more broadly of cinema – F.W.
Murnau’s Nosferatu. If Truffaut ordained Werner Herzog to be “The most
important filmmaker alive” then Nosferatu the Vampyre is the arguably the
filmmaker’s most important for this single reason.
1979, on the Herzogian moors a strange creature was sighted - a genre picture
in the shadow of the vampyre. As recently as 2009 another similar breed of
creature was spotted - Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. The latter has
struggled to escape the shadow of Herzog’s earlier genre masterpiece, which
remains masterful example of a director turning his hand to genre. Alongside
Bad Lieutenant, Nosferatu establishes him as a filmmaker with multiple creative
identities, mining art house, documentary and genre to carve out his cinematic
opens his vampyre tale to a series of haunting pictorial and musical beats. It
is difficult to imagine the pan of mummies as existing separate of the music -
the two fused together in a dance of death. The music echoes like the tragic
voices of the living that are in a state of desperation and terror, before
their cries are interrupted by the bat riding the evocative musical waves. But
the terror is not death; rather it is the living dead – a frightening version
of a mongrel creature trapped between life and death.
Kinski, along with the other cast of actors to walk in the shadow of the
undead, highlights the Shakespearean shades of Stoker’s Dracula that is open to
interpretation. Herzog’s film possesses a sensuality that, aside from Murnau’s
Nosferatu, is perhaps absent in the others. Alongside Schreck’s creature of the
night, Kinski creates a monstrous incarnation that is surreal and sensual when
compared to the sexual predators of later years. The journey of Dracula on
screen is a journey of sensuality versus sexuality and the sensual ode to life
versus the emphasis on sexual seduction.
years on from Aguirre, Wrath of God, Nosferatu finds Herzog working within a
more rigid narrative structure, and yet his attention appears to still be drawn
to the experience. He continues to create a distinct sense of feeling that has
become a trademark of his cinema - an aura that surrounds his films that
resemble the medieval spires of a cathedral that reach into the sky, and which
are hard to miss on the cinematic horizon. The narrative unfolds slowly in
moments, affording itself the opportunity to appreciate the landscape,
especially in those scenes where Jonathan Harker (Bruno Ganz) makes his way
through the hills and mountains to Count Orlok’s (Klaus Kinski’s) residence.
to the operatic sound of Wagner, the landscape becomes a character that recalls
the importance of space in Herzog’s cinema. Yet more significantly, this
spatial aesthetic contributes to a meditation of man versus nature, and which
depicts man and the vampyre as a mere extension. Perhaps Herzog’s Nosferatu
unearths the idea of the cyclic nature of life, death and rebirth, where the
grandiose images of the landscape form the backdrop of a journey that sets us
the protagonists against our supernatural antagonists. The urban wilderness and
the expansive waters that link continents are a backdrop we pale in comparison
to, yet we define the narratives that exist in the foreground of the image.
Bruno Ganz matches Kinski’s physical onscreen presence in a
performance that begins with a sprightly step before spiralling into
deterioration and rebirth. Meanwhile Isabelle Adjani as the pale lady is almost
responsible for a collision between the telepathically connected vampire and
spectre. As in Possession only two years later, Adjani shows a propensity to
walk out to the edge of the cliff and hold herself on the brink between life
and death, the emotions of the performance teetering on a knife edge between
outpouring and restraint. Three celebrated actors who each possess a
transformative quality that imbues the film with a surreal, sensual and
evocative identity that comes directly from the beating or silent hearts of its
characters, and radiates outward to infect sound and image.
Nosferatu remains only second to Murnau's earlier masterpiece, but it's patient and sensual feel betray its European roots. Compared to the extras that made the Aguirre, Wrath of God disc shine, the BFI have struggled to make this package as in-depth. However, Herzog's commentary (moderated by Norman Hill) restores faith in the reason for audio commentaries in general, as he once again takes you into the human experience of the making of the film. The original 1979 on-set promotional film offers anecdotes and insights that are missing from the audio commentary, with candid footage in which both writer-director Herzog and star Klaus Kinski take centre stage. If Herzog's words take you behind the film, this supplementary additional feature offers some fascinating visuals as well. Inevitably there are the standard features such as original theatrical trailer and stills gallery but the illustrated booklet comes with a thoughtful newly written essay by acclaimed composer Laurie Johnson that offers an interesting perspective on this classic European genre picture. Most ironic, perhaps, is the white design of the limited edition Steelbook, when one considers that Nosferatu is a tale of darkness that is centred on a creature that lurks in the shadows.
Impulse Pictures continues its obsession with sleazy 1970s porn flicks with the release of "The Chambermaids", a 1974 opus that exploits erotic fantasies regarding the otherwise mundane occupation of hotel maids. Yes, there is something about maids and nurses that appeals to below-the-belt interests of men and these scenarios were often the basis of porn flicks going back to the beginning of the genre. Naturally, in order for the fantasies to be enacted, the maids in question have to be young and pretty and not look like members of the old Soviet Olympics team. In "The Chambermaids" two young women, Mary Ellen and Sally, are bored with their low-paying professions of cleaning rooms in a big city hotel. They devise a plot to become considerably more friendly to male guests in the hope they will be financially rewarded for their efforts. It doesn't take long for the plan to meet with success. One of the maids ends up bedding a businessman who is awaiting the arrival of a married colleague. After a hot session with said maid, he asks her to bring a friend back later so he can "entertain" the client in an even more special manner. The other maid, meanwhile, is tidying up the suite of a newlywed couple when she encounters the distraught groom. He explains that his wife is in the bedroom, frustrated, because he can't rise to the occasion. The maid theorizes that he is unnecessarily paranoid about now being married and gives him a crash course in revitalizing his mojo. The grateful hubby then goes back into the boudoir with renewed confidence. Somewhere along the way, the scenario begins to play out like a French bedroom farce with mistaken identities and chance encounters adding some comedic touches. The new bride (conveniently clad in a nightie) ends up wandering into an adjoining hotel room where she observes one of the maids and another woman pleasuring each other. They immediately seduce her and, following this session, she is mistaken for a hooker and ends up bedding the businessman's client.
"The Chambermaids" doesn't boast any of the big names from the porn industry during this era. Even the ubiquitous John Holmes is nowhere to be seen. Nevertheless, it's a middle-of-the-road production, more ambitious than some and boasting a cast that is fairly attractive, if you don't count the guy who plays the business client. (He resembles the love child of porn legend Ron Jeremy and character actor Al Letieri.) The sex scenes are pretty straight forward and aren't marred by the goofy slapstick comedy that permeated a lot of the X rated flicks of the day. It's undoubtedly also the only time in screen history in which a woman indulged in oral sex to the strains of Burt Bacharach's Oscar-nominated "Casino Royale" song "The Look of Love".
Impulse Pictures has wisely chosen to market the movie's shortcomings as strengths. Consider the copy from the back of the DVD sleeve:
"The amateur camerawork, microphone shadows, elevator music, terribly recorded sound and "you are there" extreme close-ups, will bring you back to the days when adult film were cheap and fast and VERY sleazy. Re-mastered from a scratchy, barely surviving theatrical print, "The Chambermaids" is a steamy slice of 70's sex cinema that will have you cleaning up your own room after you watch it!"
At last- a case of truth in advertising! How can you help but love this company? Besides, that cover art is worth the price alone.
recently watching Sweet Hostage
(1975), I couldn’t stop thinking that Martin Sheen should’ve been a much bigger
star. I didn’t get out to the movies
much as a kid, and could only watch a small black & white TV in my bedroom.
Hence, it was Sheen, the king of the TV movie, who gave me my first inkling of
what an actor could do.
from his iconic turn as the homicidal Kit in Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973), Sheen did most of his
1970s work on the small screen. He had a
shifty-eyed way about him that screamed “troubled loner.” Granted, he could dial it down long enough to
play Bobby Kennedy in The Missiles of
October, but generally, he played twitchy, neurotic types.
seemed to be on television every month in those days. I remember him as the
doomed Private Slovick, shaking like a leaf as he stood in front of an
execution squad. Then he was as a cocky hot rodder trying to upstage a sadistic
sheriff in The California Kid. He was
“Pretty Boy” Floyd, the Depression era bank robber. There was the Kennedy turn, and then, of
course, the endless reruns of various cop dramas where he often appeared as
misfits and derelicts, cackling all the way.
Sweet Hostage originally aired on ABC in Oct. 1975, the peak of the “made for TV
movie” era. Sheen’s portrayal of
Leonard Hatch, an escapee from a Boston mental ward who kidnaps a lonely teen
played by Linda Blair, was quite a big deal at the time, especially among
women. I recall overhearing various
females – aunts, teachers, ladies at the supermarket – talking about this
movie. “Did you see it?” they’d ask each other. “Did you cry at the end?”
the decades since, the movie appeared to fall into the rabbit hole where a lot
of made-for-TV flicks go, but it loomed large in my mind. I recalled it as a dark tale of a man who
held a woman hostage, and somehow they fell in love. I’m not familiar with
Nathaniel Benchley’s novel, Welcome to Xanadu, which served as the basis for
the movie, but I’ve heard the movie is much more of a tearjerker. On a side note, I remember a day in the
1990s when Sweet Hostage was airing
on an obscure local station, wedged in between Mexican mummy movies and
infomercials. I hadn’t seen it in years
and wanted to get reacquainted with it. To my surprise, the movie felt
sentimental and overblown. Watching it
tonight streamed on the Warner Archive, though, it seemed a nearly perfect
relic of the era.
first image is a tight close-up of Sheen’s gaunt, slightly haunted face. The
wind blows his hair back, all the better to see his thousand mile stare. As
Hatch, Sheen may have reached the pinnacle of his psycho period. He’s a
literature spouting nutcase, the sort of eccentric who wanders the grounds of
the asylum reciting poetry and demanding the nurses call him ‘Kublai Khan.’ He
escapes one night, steals a truck, robs a store (while wearing a clown mask)
and heads for parts unknown.
plays Doris Mae Withers, a 17-year-old who dreams of the day when she can leave
her father’s chicken farm. One day her truck breaks down on the highway and
Hatch picks her up. When he decides she’s an illiterate who could use some
mentoring, he holds her captive in his cabin, trying to impress her with the
beauty of poetry. She makes a few feeble
attempts at escaping, but gradually succumbs to Hatch’s weird charm. True, he has an irrational temper, but when
he’s not yelling at her, he’s rather kind, like a man from another era, someone
out of a story book of princes and rogues. He even wears a puffy shirt. Hell,
it beats living on the chicken farm, so she gets comfortable and hunkers down
for the long hall. Far-fetched? Sure,
but I never said the movie was flawless.
at times, comes dangerously close to overdoing it as Hatch. He’s a dervish of
fake accents, odd mannerisms, cackling laughter, and manic outbursts. But for all of his frenzied behavior, we
never learn why he was in the mental hospital. For all we know, he’d been locked away because he loved poetry. (There’s
an odd scene where Hatch meets a townie who babbles at him in lines borrowed
from Star Trek. He even gives Hatch the Vulcan salute. What do we glean from
this? Quoting Mr. Spock is permitted, but quote Lord Byron and you go to the
Richard C. Glouner shoots the hell out of the Taos, New Mexico locations, but
his strategy of filming the main characters from below works against the theme
of the movie. Shooting from below makes Sheen and Blair look like large
powerful figures, when they’re actually two little people in a big lonely
world. Glouner’s work is striking, but
it doesn’t fit the story. He does have a flair for making Taos look like big
sky country, and he makes Hatch’s cabin look rustic and hard, but his best work
is a scene where Sheen and Blair waltz
around inside the cabin – he brings his camera above the scene, looking down at
the two as they appear to be growing closer. It’s a warm scene, and it’s a
reminder of how director Lee Philips carried off the neat trick of making us
believe Blair could fall in love with her captor.
a veteran TV director, keeps the movie motoring along, but he nearly destroys
it with music, including a terrible theme song that he dumps into the movie at
random sections. The song, which I won’t glorify by mentioning its title or
singer, nearly capsizes the movie. Imagine if, while watching Badlands, or, say, Bonnie and Clyde, a scene was suddenly interrupted by Terry Jacks
singing ‘Seasons in the Sun.’ That’s how off-putting the music is here. Since
most TV shows of the period had an opening theme song where the plot would be
described ( i.e. “Here’s the story of a man named Brady…”) television producers may have thought a TV
movie needed the same thing, a song to describe the action. Still, it’s
ridiculous. This is probably why I had a bad reaction to the movie back in the
also had a bad habit of laying drippy music underneath all of the emotional
scenes, as if he’s determined to tell us how we should feel. The score, a schlocky mix of TV music clichés
by Luchi De Jesus (who had done a lot of Blaxploitation movies), really hasn’t
aged well. Some of the scenes were
magical on their own, such as when Sheen and Blair embrace after she reads a
poem that moves him to tears. Strip the
music away and the scenes would be much more powerful, for Sheen and Blair
don’t need musical accompaniment. And as much as I like Sheen, it’s really
Blair who made this movie sit up and speak. As Doris Mae, Blair gives just
about the most honest performance ever given by a teenager.
like Sheen, had become a bit of a TV icon, emerging from The Exorcist to appear as various teen alcoholics and runaways on
somewhat scandalous TV movies. (Her name is above Sheen’s on the credits, which
shows you the power of The Exorcist
was still in the air). And while Sheen
hyperventilates as Hatch, Blair has the sense to underplay their scenes together
– she’s the rock in the middle of his windstorm.
consider this: If female viewers fell in love with Sheen in this movie, they
were doing so through Linda Blair’s eyes. Blair must have tapped into something
that exists in all women, some strange desire to be trapped, combined with a
need to nurture. The creepy cabin in the
woods becomes a kind of enchanted cottage, with Doris Mae sweeping up and
hanging curtains, her eyes widening as Hatch tells her of exotic, faraway
lands. Yet, she also knows that this
grown man is still something like a kid himself. For Doris Mae, Hatch is all men in one: the
unpredictable but gentle father, the encouraging teacher, the playful brother,
the flirtatious boyfriend, and even, in a roundabout way, the son who needs
protection. With so many facets of Hatch to deal with, Doris Mae can only grow.
To her delight, she likes growing. In what is probably the performance of her
lifetime, Blair shows us the inner workings of a sad girl warming up to life.
ending is a bummer, with bloodthirsty vigilantes closing in on Hatch’s
cabin. When he spots a police helicopter
hovering over his place, he decides to take the only way out he can think of,
sacrificing himself so Doris Mae can live. TV viewers bombarded newspapers with
angry letters, asking why the film had to end in a death. The movie was a success, though, and was even
given a theatrical release in several European countries. There were even
rumors that 34-year-old Sheen and 17-year-old Blair had some sort of off-screen
affair (which both denied).
announced at the time that he was leaving television to focus on big screen
features. He started by killing Jodie
Foster’s hamster in The Little Girl Who
Lives Down the Lane. He got as far
as ApocalypseNow, suffered a heart attack during filming, and spent the next 30
years bouncing between TV and independent pics. He’s never hit the peaks I’d imagined for him. As for Blair, well, Roller Boogie was beckoning. Blair, too, has worked steadily, but she was never better than she was
as the girl in Leonard Hatch’s cabin, her eyes widening with love for the
strange man who brought out the poetry in her.
(This review pertains to the limited edition Region 2 UK release from the BFI)
By Paul Risker
well as asking the question “Is cinema more important than life?” Francois
Truffaut showed a flair for statement when he declared Werner Herzog to be “The
most important filmmaker alive.”
the BFI have the final word this summer, it will be remembered as the summer of
Herzog, as they align themselves with the German filmmaker and journey headlong
into his cinematic world. This rendezvous starts with a descent into the past with
two distinct forms of horror - the hallucinatory horror of human obsession in
Aguirre, Wrath of God and the genre horror Nosferatu.
Wrath of God represents an important entry in Herzog's career, and by coupling it
with his 1971 feature documentary Fata Morgana, this release highlights the spatial
thread that runs through his cinema. From the jungle, the desert, Antarctica
and the urban geographical spaces resemble continents in Herzog’s cinema. Therein
the decision to offset Herzog's early foray into the jungle with an early
montage of images of the desert set to songs by Leonard Cohen is a fitting
accompaniment to Aguirre’s obsessive jungle march.
is theoretically possible to appreciate select films via the filmmaker’s commentary
on a first viewing, and Aguirre, Wrath of God is one of those films to support
such a theory. Herzog’s commentary intertwines well with the film, and whilst
the film functions as an independent entity - the grown up child who has come
of age and has been sent out into the world; Herzog’s words take you behind the
images to tell you the transparent narrative of the human experience behind the
in one sense the films exist separately of their filmmaker, in equal measure an
extension of him. In Aguirre, Wrath of God Herzog’s audacity to confront the inhospitable
jungle as well as the arduous nature of the filmmaking process finds him
mirrored in the tale of obsession and the obsessive nature of Don Lope de
Aguirre (Klaus Kinski).
primary focus appears to be trained on the experience or sense of feeling the
film offers over the consideration of narrative, by opening himself up to the
environment as a source of inspiration. He allows the jungle to reveal its
nature and to guide him in creating an experience for him, his characters and
us the audience. Aguirre feels authentically gruelling, and lacks the
artificial feel of a performance, merging the physical and psychological
experience of a trek, and despite the improvisational approach, Herzog manages
to create a melodic flow amidst the arduous natural terrain, imbuing it with
graceful beauty despite the descent into an obsessive voyage of death.
Wrath of God offers a powerful meditation on a theme of insanity - the susceptibility
versus the immunity. Whilst Kinski’s Aguirre floats on the surface in a state
of disquieting peace, his counterparts are inevitably dragged beneath the calm
surface. Kinski’s delivers a pitch perfect performance, both his idle and glaring
stare offset against the awkward physical movements that masterfully merge the
physical abruptness with a shade of a devilish soul.
jungle setting affords Herzog the opportunity to take advantage of the space
and setting as a mirror to reflect his characters psychology - the wildness of
their natures, and the labyrinth of obsession that the winding river becomes a
metaphor for. But the fatalities suffered by the native’s offers a reflection
that man is his own undoing, and mother nature is only a backdrop or a
reflection capable of showing us both our Jekyll and Hyde.
sits as the opening chapter in the tumultuous Kinski-Herzog collaboration; the
full story of which was wonderfully told in Herzog’s 1999 documentary My Best Fiend.
This relationship imbues Herzog’s career with a shade of folklore. If Woody
Allen listed reasons to live, then one of the reasons to be grateful for
Aguirre, Wrath of God is Herzog’s infamous threat to shoot Kinski. Whilst
disputes on set are not unheard of, Kinski and Herzog pushed into the realm of
the absurd. Whilst the two men plotted each other’s murder together they created
a series of films that have come to represent one of the great cinematic
collaborations in the history of film. But the distortion of these stories has
imbued them with a sense of myth; where what happened differs to what we think
happened. The stories of threats of physical harm and fleeing native tribes
could be read as filmic parables or cautionary tales for other filmmakers. If
the story of the making of a film can be just as compelling as the narrative
that plays out onscreen, the Kinski-Herzog dance more often than not produced such
a compelling second narrative. What better place to start than with Aguirre,
Wrath of God where this collaboration was born.
a fine selection of extras including an old commentary track moderated by
Norman Hill and the montage documentary Fata Morgana, included on this release
are three early shorts that see Herzog experiment with the subjective and
objective perspective of his characters. An entertaining trilogy representing a
young filmmaker cutting his teeth, they present him as a filmmaker fascinated
by human nature, behaviour and personality from the very dawn of his filmmaking
The Warner Archive has released director Ken Annakin's madcap comedy "The Biggest Bundle of the Them All" as a burn-to-order DVD. The film's title has multiple meanings. It's a romantic ballad that is crooned over the opening titles by Johnny Mathis and a rock 'n roll version is heard later in the film. It also refers to a kidnap victim as well as the loot a group of thieves hope to gain from an audacious robbery. Finally, there is the sexual twist on the title with a bikini-clad Raquel Welch adorning the advertising posters.
The film is set in Italy and director Annakin makes the most of the lush locations. The film opens with an inept group of amateur crooks gently kidnapping a local crime lord, Cesare Celli (Vittorio De Sica), in the hopes of holding him for an elaborate ransom. Although Celli is refined, cultured and pompous, the leader of the crooks, Harry (Robert Wagner), soon discovers that Celli is past his sell date in terms of his influence in Italian crime circles. In fact, he is penniless and without the slightest influence among the real "dons". In an ironic twist, Celli becomes humiliated by this discovery and tries valiantly to find ways to collect his own ransom and prove that he still has some value to somebody. When that fails, he convinces Harry and his four confederates to enter into a partnership with him to mastermind a grand theft that will make them all rich. It involves an elaborate operation in which they will rob a train and steal a fortune in platinum, which will then be flown out of the country on an old WWII U.S. bomber. In advance of putting the scheme into play, the gang attempts several other minor crimes but they prove to be far too inept to carry even these out successfully. Celli enlists the aid of an influential American, "The Professor" (Edward G. Robinson), an equally sophisticated man who outlines the "foolproof" master robbery scheme.
The film is delightful on many levels. First, there is the inspired cast with De Sica stealing every scene in a truly inspired and very funny performance. The "gang that couldn't shoot straight" has several genuinely amusing actors including Italian character actor Francesco Mule, Brit Davy Kaye and American Godfrey Cambridge as a fey gangster who seems to have every amusing mannerism of Joe Besser of the Three Stooges. Raquel Welch, then in the early days of her superstardom, holds her own quite well in this "boy's club", playing the gorgeous arm candy of Wagner's Harry and there is an amusing sequence in which she dances in a disco with Edward G. Robinson (!) Director Annakin had the good sense to show plenty of gratuitous footage of Welch jiggling, gyrating and dancing about, often clad in a sexy bikini. Victor Spinetti turns up in a cameo, as does Mickey Knox, the American character actor who made good in Italy be rewriting Italian dialogue for American audiences on classic Westerns for Sergio Leone.
The film has many very funny vignettes and a whimsical score by Riz Ortolani. Annakin, who was equally adept at directing dramatic action films, never lets the pace flag for a second and the chemistry between his cast members is one of the movie's great pleasures.
The Warner Archive release is from a print that shows some fluctuations in lighting and color but is overall quite acceptable, though unfortunately there are no extras.
the Old West, small homesteaders run afoul of a big landowner who controls the
local law and levies killer taxes on their ranches and farms.The homesteaders finally refuse to pay the
taxes, andpetition the governor for
help.Meanwhile, expecting reprisal from
the landowner’s hired guns, they build a makeshift fort for refuge.They also send for help from a mercenary who comes
to their aid with his private army of four associates and a Gatling gun.
kidding about the Western setting. This
is actually the plot of “Gonin No Shokin
Kasegi,” also known as “The Fort of Death,” a 1969 Japanese chambara by Eiichi
Kudo. Nevertheless, the similarities are there. The homesteaders are peasants, the landowner
is their oppressive feudal lord, and the higher official they’ve petitioned is
the emperor. It’s easy to squint and
superimpose an Old West setting out of an American B movie, with Audie Murphy
or George Montgomery riding to the rescue.
not joking about the Gatling gun, though. The film is hazy about the historical period of the action, but I would
guess the setting is meant to be the 1870s, when Western goods and weapons have
entered the Japanese economy.
of the Lone Wolf and Cub samurai movies will recognize the star of that series,
Tomisaburo Wakayama, as Ichibei, the head mercenary. The movie calls him a “bounty hunter,” and
“The Fort of Death” is one of three movies (1969-72) about the same character
that the reference books call the “Bounty Hunter” series. In this one at least, he seems more like a
soldier of fortune who might collect bounties one day and lead a team of
quasi-military specialists the next.
should be the poster boy for middle-aged, dumpy, homely males: the women in the
movie keep making passes at Ichibei, if not downright trying to get in his
pants, including a smokin’ hot lady ninja on his team of mercenaries.
contrast to his dour Lone Wolf and Cub ronin, Wakayama loosens up with Ichibei,
who runs a medical practice when he’s not fighting a war for downtrodden
peasants. There’s a funny, raunchy scene
where a jittery patient comes to Dr. Ichibei complaining about pain “down
there”; Ichibei diagnoses the clap and somberly tells the poor bastard that
he’ll have to “cut it off.” When the
patient reacts in terror, Ichibei says, “Oh, all right” and directs his nurse
to bring a pump with a very long hollow needle, and . . . Trust me, you won’t
see a scene like that on “Grey’s Anatomy” or “Dr. Oz.”
first read about “The Fort of Death” years ago -- I think in one of John
Willis’ “Screen World” movie annuals. I had the impression that the film was
intended to be a Japanese version of a Spaghetti Western, bringing full circle
a pattern that began when Akira
Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo” (1961) inspired Sergio Leone’s groundbreaking Spaghetti,
“A Fistful of Dollars” (1964). I don’t see much of a Spaghetti influence,
though, unless Ichibei’s Gatling gun was intended to remind contemporary
viewers of Franco Nero’s machine gun in Sergio Corbucci’s “Django” (1966).
“The Seven Samurai” (1954) would seem to be more of a prototype, at least in
the basic premise of expert warriors coming to the aid of besieged
peasants. But “The Fort of Death” is
mostly action for action’s sake, without the deeper themes of honor and duty
that characterized “The Seven Samurai,” or for that matter Kudo’s own “The
Thirteen Assassins” (1963) and “The Great Killing” (1964). Presumably, an American company will someday
issue an official stateside edition of “The Fort of Death.” In the meantime, a good, home grown, letterboxed, sub-titled print is available on
the collector’s circuit.
A controversy over the style of drapes for a mansion's library would not seem to be the fodder for a sizzling screen drama but it is the catalyst for the events that unwind in The Cobweb, a 1955 soap opera that involves the talents of some very impressive actors and filmmakers. The film was directed by Vincente Minnelli and produced by John Houseman, based on the bestselling novel by William Gibson. The cast features an impressive array of seasoned veterans as well as up-and-comers. Among them: Richard Widmark, Lauren, Bacall, Charles Boyer, Gloria Grahame, Lillian Gish, Oscar Levant, Susan Strasberg and John Kerr. The action all takes place in a psychiatric institute called "The Castle". It's actually a mansion house and the patients are seemingly there voluntarily. They are an assortment of mixed nuts ranging from elderly eccentrics to young people with severe problems interacting with others. The nominal head of the institute is Dr. Devenal (Charles Boyer), an erudite, once-respected professional who long ago ceded actual power to his second-in-command, Dr. Stewart MacIver (Richard Widmark), who has implemented very progressive and controversial theories about patient treatment that involve giving those afflicted with psychiatric disorders a voice in the policies and events pertaining to the institute. He's routinely criticized for going to far in trying to build patient self-esteem but MacIver is convinced that such programs are the only way to ensure that those in his care can become self-sustaining members of society. The Castle is hardly the kind of loony bin depicted in most Hollywood films of the era. In fact, it looks more like an upscale bed and breakfast. Everyone is nattily dressed, exceedingly polite and indulge in social activities. MacIver is the one who seems closest to a complete breakdown. His marriage to his sultry young wife Karen (Gloria Grahame) is on the skids. She accuses him of being a workaholic who puts his career before the needs of his wife and young son (Tommy Rettig). On a more personal level, she makes it clear that she is sexually frustrated, as MacIver has moved into a separate bedroom, telling Karen that she is a self-obsessed party girl. There is truth in both accusations. The chain smoking MacIver does seem to be married to his job. Predictably, things get more complicated when MacIver has an affair with a co-worker at the institute (Lauren Bacall) and Karen's ill-conceived flirtations with the perpetually horny Dr. Devenal backfire and cause distress for both of them. The fragile tranquility among the patients also becomes strained when a controversy erupts over MacIver's plan to allow them to design and create new draperies for the library. This inspires the most problematic inmate, a young man named Steve Holte (John Kerr) who is traditionally anti-social but who comes alive by using his creative talents for the project. However, the institute's busy-body secretary, Victoria Inch (Lillian Gish) has already ordered expensive draperies from a company and she objects to using the patients' creations. This sets in motion a series of dramatic circumstances that has major consequences for all the main characters.
The premise of the screenplay reads like something out of a Monty Python sketch and critics at the time of the film's release pointed out the absurdity of having draperies serve as the catalyst for such dark goings-on. The film was considered a major disappointment and has largely been forgotten. However, looking at the movie today, one is impressed with the sheer amount of talent involved in the production. It should also be pointed out that saying the movie is about curtains is as inaccurate as saying The Titanic is a movie about icebergs. In fact, The Cobweb is a reasonably compelling drama that sustains interest despite an "everything but the kitchen" sink formula for introducing crisis after crisis for the main characters and a tacked on happy ending that deviated from the book. Widmark is a commanding screen presence and Gloria Grahame excels as his sex-starved wife. Grahame completely overshadows the presence of Lauren Bacall, who underplays to the point of invisibility. There is also a scene-stealing performance by Lillian Gish as an insecure administrator with no life outside of her office duties and who is immediately threatened by any incursion into her spheres of influence. Charles Boyer is an odd but inspired choice as the institute's director, a man who has sold out in terms of his professional ethics simply to enjoy a cozy life and a fat pay check. John Kerr and Susan Strasberg also impress as anti-social young people who predictably become attracted to each other.
The Cobweb is a potboiler, pure and simple. While it's not a "lost classic" by any means, it seems the film does deserve to be re-evaluated for its many merits.
The movie is available on DVD through the Warner Archive. The transfer is very good and includes the original theatrical trailer.
(Cinema Retro is pleased to announce that we will be reviewing titles now available on the Warner Archive Instant Streaming Service.)
Warner Archive has released The Venetian Affair as a streaming video title, having previously been released as a burn to order DVD. The intriguing 1967 spy thriller is often mistaken for a Man From U.N.C.L.E. feature film since it stars Robert Vaughn, was released by MGM and features the word "affair" in the title. Yet the movie is far removed from the fanciful world of U.N.C.L.E. In fact it's a refreshingly downbeat espionage drama that was based on a best-selling book by Helen MacInnes. Vaughn plays Bill Fenner, a disgraced ex-CIA man who battles a penchant for booze while trying to eek out a living as a reporter for an international wire service. Fenner is sent to Venice ostensibly to investigate the apparent suicide bombing of an international peace conference committed by a respected U.S. diplomat. Fenner soon discovers he is a pawn in a complex plot that involves mind control and enemy agents. The role afforded Vaughn a chance to showcase his considerable acting skills and he plays Fenner as a moody and not particularly heroic figure. The one trait similar to Napoleon Solo is that he manages to intertwine with some exotic European lovelies including his ex-wife Elke Sommer and mysterious femme fatales Luciana Paluzzi and Felicia Farr.
Original movie tie-in paperback edition.
Although the interiors were obviously filmed at MGM studios, director Jerry Thorpe capitalizes on the exotic sites and sounds of Venice, always a prime location for stories of mystery and intrigue. The movie is largely devoid of humor but reliable character actor Roger C. Carmel provides a few moments of levity. The excellent supporting cast includes Edward Asner as Fenner's crotchety former CIA boss who still harbors hatred for him, Karl Boehm as the enemy agent who masterminds the mind control plot and Boris Karloff, who is refreshingly given an important and intelligent role at a point in his career when he was largely relegated to low-budget Mexican horror movies. The movie also boasts a wonderfully atmospheric score by Lalo Schifrin.
Click here to access the Warner Archive streaming service.
production company Vinegar Syndrome seems to be trying to pick up the market
that Something Weird Video has cultivated over the past fifteen years or so. And
that is a good thing! Their desire to restore and release as many independently
produced exploitation films as possible is both laudable and impressive. I
count myself as a cult film fan but a look at their list of titles leaves me scratching
my head in wonderment as I have never heard of most of the movies they are
dealing to the public. My few dips into the VS catalog have been interesting,
sleazy fun but I was caught off guard by this disc. The company is following
the Something Weird template of having each DVD comprised of a double feature
of titles that have some kind of themed connection. In this case we have two
set-bound, low budget talky dramas spiced with sex in one case and ..... I'm
not sure what in the other.
Candidate (1964) was pitched to me as a sexploitation film staring Ted Knight
and my mind rejected that description sight unseen. There can be no such film,
said logic and reason. Surely the planet would rip asunder if such a movie
existed, said sanity. Ted Knight of The Mary Tyler Moore show engaged in sexual
shenanigans? This cannot be true. And in the end this thought process was proven
right enough for me to retain my intellect after screening the film. Now, there
are sexploitation elements in the film as you might expect with any film that
top lines sex kitten Mamie Van Doren, but those are the least interesting
parts. (Of the film, I mean…) She plays Samantha, a hard working modern woman
who, because of a chance encounter with senatorial candidate Frank Carlton (Ted
Knight), is offered a job by conniving campaign runner Eric (Buddy Parker)
aiming to work for the prospective senator. She agrees and we are then shown
the complicated way various relationships shape the campaign and how it all
falls apart. In a strange choice, the story is related as a series of
flashbacks as the main characters are grilled in front of a Congressional
hearing which causes the film to feel like a mild and overly solemn
courtroom drama. It can be pretty entertaining to watch Eric procure ladies for
the Washington elite but the film bogs down once the shape of the downfall of
Knight's character comes into focus. Parker plays the ruthless Eric as a
cynical bastard and he isn't bad in the role but its Knight who is most
impressive. As his character meets and falls in love with Angela (June
Wilkinson) we see this shy man come alive and have to face the fact that the
woman he cares for will destroy his hoped-for career. Knight is exceptional in
the role, investing great care in showing very nuanced emotions as he struggles
with his options. In the scenes involving his character, the film is solid and
the courtroom sequences are very well- scripted.However, the rest of the movie-
the sexploitation parts- are dry as dust. This is the film's problem- it has
half of a good movie but it has been shackled to a silly lingerie show with
Miss Van Doren. In the end The Candidate isn't a bad movie but it isn't very
good either, which is a shame.
Syndrome has coupled the main feature with a decidedly 'B' picture from 1957
called Johnny Gunman. If The Candidate sometimes felt a bit set-bound, it looks
better with this movie immediately following it. Extremely low budget, the film
seems to have been shot on the cheap and quick with little time for second
takes. The story takes place in New York (I think) as gangster Johnny G (Martin
Brooks) spends a long night hiding out from a rival hood. This other gang boss
named Allie (Johnny Seven) is up for the same new position as Johnny but has
the added impetus of a Lady MacBeth-like girlfriend pushing him to off the
competition. While on the run from gunmen, Johnny finds himself in a cafe where
he threatens the patrons and then propositions the only pretty girl in the
place, Coffee (Ann Donaldson). The other customers don't like the idea of this
nice girl spending all night with this dangerous man so a bargain is worked
out- she will spend two hours with each of the three men who want her attention
over the next six hours. If this sounds artificial, you are right. The rest of
the movie plays out with Coffee spending her required time with each man as she
seeks a story worth writing about- she's a journalist, you see. As you might
expect, she falls for Johnny's criminal charms and must decide if she will
return to her little home town or stay in the big city to love a bad man good. To
call this film dull is to be too nice. It has a 67 minute running time and I
nearly dozed off twice in the first forty-five minutes. The movie feels both
rushed and static with only a few poorly constructed sets on view. The acting
is half-hearted with Miss Donaldson taking top honors as the stiffest actress in
memory. Some of her line deliveries are as if she had never read the script
before walking onto the hastily nailed together set. Ugh! Save yourself the
time and skip it.
DVD carries no extras but both movies look very good. The Candidate is in very
sharp black & white anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen presentation with Johnny
Gunman looking just as good on a 1.33:1 print. I might have wished for some
more information on these movies but in the end I'm just happy they are
available. Well, I'm happy one of them
Having been friends with a number of people in my life who are- or have been- car salesman, one thing becomes clear very quickly: you need to have a thick skin and a good sense of humor in order to survive in this curious profession. Not even bank robbers have seen their reputations degraded as much as car salesman- especially those who specialize in used cars...er, make that "previously owned vehicles", in the parlance of today. As with any profession, generalities can be dangerous. There are undoubtedly many reputable people selling cars but even they will tell you that, behind the scenes, the overriding strategies are to close the deal, no matter what it takes. I've always found it rather ironic that while, on the national level, car companies spend a fortune to present their products in TV ads that have production values that suggest class, style and elegance- while at the local level, car dealers swamp the airwaves with home-made ads that are cheap, cheesy and unintentionally hilarious. The consumer sees an ad during the Super Bowl with a guy who looks like 007 behind the wheel of a spanking new vehicle. Yet his local dealership sells the same product through ads featuring the owner, his mother, his cutesy kids - and in some cases over the top comic scenarios that are something out of the old Second City TV skits. (A local dealer near me is a portly fellow who routinely sells his cars while dressed in tights as a super hero!)
Car dealerships already had shaky reputations by the time director Robert Zemeckis rode a semi over the profession with his 1980 comedy "Used Cars". Twilight Time has released the special 2002 DVD edition as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray title. The film clearly exploited the new screen freedoms in the realm of tasteless humor that had been introduced a couple of years before by director John Landis with "National Lampoon's Animal House". There are those who consider "Used Cars" to be on par with that comedy classic, while others feel its "everything-but-the-kitchen sink" structure makes it more chaotic than consistently funny. In this writer's opinion, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Zemeckis and his co-writer Bob Gale had previously written and directed the 1978 film "I Wanna Hold Your Hand", which Steven Spielberg produced. The underrated and largely under-exposed comedy was the antithesis of "Used Cars" in that it was a sweet-natured look at how the arrival of The Beatles in America wreaked havoc on the lives of New York teenagers. Zemeckis and Gale went on to write Spielberg's epic 1979 WWII comedy "1941" before getting the green light to do "Used Cars", which was executive produced by Spielberg and John Milius.
"Used Cars" opens on a cynical shot of Arizona car salesman Rudy Russo (Kurt Russell) tampering with the odometer on a beat-up vehicle in the hopes he can sucker some poor soul into buying it. Rudy is a charismatic young man who is a charming as he is soulless in terms of his moral fiber. He is intent on raising $10,000 so he can afford to be a credible candidate in the forthcoming race for state senator, a job he presumes will enable him to benefit from even greater graft and corruption. Meanwhile, the only person he respects is the owner of the car lot, the elderly Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden), a man in precarious health whose days are clearly numbered. Luke is locked in a constant daily battle with his more affluent brother Roy (also played by Warden) who has a successful car lot directly across the highway from Luke. Despite the fact that Roy's sales far out-gross those of Luke, he is intent on using dirty tricks to gain control over his less fortunate brother's lot so that he can have the biggest dealership in the state. Much of the humor derives from Rudy's intense attempts to use chicanery to outwit Roy's attempts to seize Luke's property. When Luke suddenly expires, Rudy fears that Roy will inherit the car lot. He enlists the assistance of his two slovenly co-workers Jeff (Gerritt Graham) and Jim (Frank McRae) to hatch an audacious plan whereby they bury Luke inside a car on his own lot then try to convince Roy that he has taken a sudden trip to Florida. Roy isn't buying it and uses his affluence to buy off local officials to launch an investigation. Complicating matters is the arrival of Luke's estranged daughter Barbara (Deborah Harmon). Rudy woos and beds her while hiding the fact that her dad is actually dead. As the film unwinds, the story becomes increasingly ludicrous and culminates in a wildly ambitious sequence in which Rudy organizers a fleet of 250 dilapidated vehicles driven by high school students on a race across the Arizona desert as part of a scheme to ensure Barbara inherits her father's car lot.
"Used Cars" boasts some truly amusing performances with Kurt Russell as the glue that holds this disparate cast together. For Russell, who had recently won acclaim for his portrayal of Elvis Presley in a TV movie, the Zemeckis film was pivotal in proving he could also draw audiences to movie theaters. (Heretofore, he was primarily known as the child and teen age star of many Walt Disney films). Every cast member is impressive and adds immeasurably to the fun, but it's Jack Warden's terrific tour de force performance as both brothers that dominates the film. Zemeckis and Gale have some misfires among the machine gun-fire like rapidity of jokes and comic situations, but they score more than they miss their targets. In one amusing sequence, they actually incorporate footage of then President Jimmy Carter in an outlandish manner. The highlight of the film is clearly the junk heap car race across the desert with Rudy and Roy battling each other from side-by-side pick up trucks like a modern version of the "Ben-Hur" chariot race. The sequence is so over-the-top and logistically impressive that you can honestly say that you've never seen anything like it. "Used Cars" has something to offend everyone: vulgar language abounds, there is disrespect for the dead, the American political system is mocked in a cynical manner and there is plenty of gratuitous tits-and-ass. No wonder I feel like watching it again.
The Twilight Time releases keeps the features from the previous special edition DVD including an award-winning 2003 commentary track featuring Zemeckis, Gale and Russell that is delightful throughout. The guys even goof about their own sloppiness in making the film (the opening frames accidentally reveal a soundman's arm and boom mic in a rear view mirror of a car). Clearly, they had as good a time reflecting on the experience as they did in making the film. There is an isolated score by Patrick Williams and an unused score by the estimable Ernest Gold. Additionally, there are radio spots and a TV ad done for a local Arizona car dealership where the movie was shot in which Kurt Russell actually appears (obviously as a favor) on camera with the lot's owner and help's pitch that week's specials on used cars! A gag reel and some outtakes are surprisingly flat and unfunny. There is also an original trailer from the days in which trailers themselves did not have to be rated. Thus, it's packed with gratuitous nudity even though it was screened to family audiences, which must have caused countless parents to have "that" conversation with their kids before they were ready to do so. There is also a terrific gallery of promotional materials including one ad that features notes from Steven Spielberg in which he complains that they may have produced a distasteful movie, but the ad campaign he is rejecting went too far in pointing this out. The movie was released during the presidential election period of 1980 and one ad notes that Ronald Reagan was not the only actor vying for the nation's top office- and invites audiences to see then incumbent President Jimmy Carter's movie debut. (As mentioned previously, this is a sly reference to newsreel footage seen in the film.) This particular ad also featured the likenesses of both candidates. Try doing that today!
The Twilight Time release is top notch. The film is not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but it is inspired lunacy that, at times, makes Animal House look as sophisticated as 'Love's Labour's Lost'.
MPI Home Video has released producer/director Dan Curtis' 1973 production of "Bram Stoker's Dracula" on Blu-ray. The film was shot for American television and starred Jack Palance as the legendary vampire. The production was released theatrically in some European markets and this Blu-ray is the theatrical cut. In general, vampires had been good to Curtis and he returned the favor by popularizing them in his high profile TV productions such as "Dark Shadows" and "The Night Stalker". For "Dracula", Curtis enlisted some top talent, aside from Palance: legendary screenwriter Richard Matheson and acclaimed cinematographer Oswald Morris, among them. He also spent rather lavishly on the project with location filming in Yugoslavia and England. Matheson's intelligent script follows the Stoker novel in most major respects with the exception of jettisoning the character of Dracula's fawning slave Renfield and the accompanying subplot set in an insane asylum. The action begins with Jonathan Harker's (Murray Brown) arduous journey to Dracula's foreboding castle in Transylvania. The Count ostensibly wants Harker to suggest some real estate holdings so that Dracula can relocate to England. Upon seeing a photograph of Harker's friend Lucy (Fiona Lewis), he is instantly mesmerized. It seems she is the spitting image of his own lover from hundreds of years ago. They were both victims of Dracula's war time enemies and he has been pining away for her ever since having been transformed into a vampire. Matheson and Curtis very much wanted to add this new plot device in order to give the character of Dracula and emotional aspect that was missing from previous cinematic incarnations of the character. As presented here, Dracula is as much victim as villain. His motives are largely related to his quest to make Lucy a reincarnation of his former lover. Thus, he imprisons Harker in his castle and immediately sets about relocating to a home that is near the residences of Lucy and her fiancee Arthur (Simon Ward). Perhaps in the interest of the 98 minute running time, designed to fill a two-hour broadcast slot, Matheson only briefly alludes to the fatal and murderous sea crossing by Dracula in which the entire crew of the passenger ship dies under mysterious and horrific circumstances-- though there is a haunting image of the last victim strapped to the wheel of the ship with a cross clutched in his hand. Once in England, Dracula wastes no time in ensuring that Lucy becomes his victim. This leads to the introduction of Prof. Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport) who correctly diagnoses her bizarre maladies as having been caused by a vampire. The plot then follows the traditional elements of Stoker's novel with the manhunt on for Dracula and attempts to rescue Lucy and Harker's financee (Penelope Horner) from eternal damnation, both having been victimized by the Count.
The centerpiece of any Dracula film, of course, is the actor who plays the title role. Jack Palance makes for a striking visual representation of the Count: tall, imposing and seething with barely-restrained menace. Palance could chew the scenery if he didn't have a strong director, but Dan Curtis keeps him in check and, if anything, his performance may be a bit understated. Nevertheless, it's a very credible interpretation of the role and Palance deserved the kudos he received. Similarly, Curtis does a fine job as director, drenching the action in a menacing atmosphere and getting fine performances from his cast members. (Davenport is particularly good as Van Helsing). Adding to the commendable aspects of the production is Robert Cobert's fine, atmospheric score and Oswald Morris' creative camera angles. The film is a winner on all counts, if you pardon the pun.
The MPI Blu-ray is also very good indeed. The transfer is excellent and the release includes some interesting bonus extras including brief interviews with Palance and Curtis done in the early 1990s. Palance is surprisingly funny and says he had never seen the production, joking that he might have found it too scary. Curtis insists in his interview that Palance was the definitive screen Dracula, something that others may argue with especially when confronted with names like Max Schreck, Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski. Nevertheless, Curtis' enthusiasm for the film remains apparent even twenty years after it had been filmed. There are also some silent footage snippets identified as deleted scenes when, in fact, they are mostly just different camera angles. Most interesting is a comparison between scenes in the TV and theatrical versions. The main differences are confined to scenes in which vampires are "staked" by Van Helsing. Predictably, the theatrical takes are far gorier with oceans of blood ejecting from the mouths of the vampires There is also a theatrical trailer that seems to have been intended for the British market.
In total, a very worthy release of a very worthy take on a timeless literary masterpiece.
Sex may be fun but it shouldn't be funny, at least when it comes to erotic filmmaking. That's my humble opinion, anyway. Most people would seem to disagree and from the inception of porn cinema, goofy comedy has been routinely blended with the more traditional aspects of the genre. Case in point: "Honey Buns", which was shot under the title "Heads or Tails" back in 1973 by director James Chiara. If that was his real name ("nom de plumes" were standard in the industry), nothing more has been heard from his since. The film is standard grind house fare from the period, with fairly low production values and a few exterior shots in L.A. to give the production a bit of atmosphere. Chiara, who is also credited as the writer, provides a familiar scenario: a nerdy male virgin who seems hopelessly destined to have his sexual fantasies remain unfulfilled. Here, our protagonist is Harry (Matt Hewitt, an odd-looking duck with an even odder, hard-to-place accent.) When we first meet Harry he is laboring as a clerk in the small office of a feminine hygiene company. He is working under the oppressive rule of a tyrannical, Captain Bligh-type boss who enjoys berating him in front of his sexy secretary, who he routinely takes into "private meetings" for some quickie sexual gratification. Alone and miserable, Harry's fortunes seem to change when he encounters an eccentric street magician who gives him a magic pill (this was pre-Viagara era, mind you) that allows Harry to conjure up the bed mates of his dreams, each of whom is completely submissive to his desires. However, as with all such fantasies, there is a down side- literally. Every time Harry is about to consummate the act, he finds that the ladies vanish into thin air. The film follows the frustrated Harry as he tries to find a solution to his problem. In between, the viewer is treated to a good deal of hard core action, some genuinely steamy, but most of which is compromised by the presence of this unappealing leading man. It's like watching "Last Tango in Paris" with Jerry Lewis in the Brando role. The movie boasts appearances by two of the cult sex symbols of the day, porn legend Rene Bond and the supremely endowed Uschi Digard, whose appearance is somewhat of a tease. She struts around in a mini skirt but leaves the rest to the viewer's imagination. Most of the film's gags are rather lame and predictable but there is no doubt that there always has been a market for these rather non-threatening porn releases that emphasize humor as much as sexual content.
As usual, Impulse Pictures does a good job of presenting a long-forgotten "B" movie in a fairly respectable manner. The transfer elements are fine although the packaging lacks the informative liner notes that accommodate some of the company's releases.
Timeless Media, which is affiliated with Shout! Factory, has released the classic 1960s TV series "I Spy" in a boxed set that contains all 82 episodes. Although Image Entertainment had released the series previously on DVD, this marks the first time the show is available in its entirety in one set. The show was one of many TV series that capitalized on the recent success of the James Bond films. Suddenly, TV and cinemas were playing spy-related fare virtually non-stop. NBC had some of the best elements of the spymania craze with "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.", Get Smart" and "I Spy". The latter series premiered in 1965 and ran three seasons through 1968. It presented Robert Culp as Kelly Robinson, who uses his status as an international tennis pro as a cover for his activities as a CIA agent. He is assisted by his good friend Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby), who ostensibly is his trainer, but who is also a top spy for the American government. What set the series apart from most of the competition was producer Sheldon Leonard's determination to spend a lot of money on the show. While the men from U.N.C.L.E's "foreign" intrigue was limited to stock footage and back lot sets, the "I Spy" guys really got to travel to exotic locations around the world. Consequently, the show has a glamorous aspect lacking in most other action adventure series from the period. Then there was the fact that in an era of hip spies, Culp and Cosby were arguably the hippest. They traded genuinely funny wisecracks that often seem improvised. The series was also significant from a social issues standpoint. Bill Cosby was the first African American leading man to play a dramatic role in a weekly TV series. He was awarded numerous Emmys for his performance but his presence in the show was controversial during an era when anti-segregation laws in the South had to enforced by gun-toting National Guardsman. Some southern affiliates of NBC refused to air the series. Cosby, who was by then a well-known stand-up comic, always credited Culp for putting his career on the line for him by insisting that either Cosby got the co-starring role, or he would quit the show before it even got under way. There is no real way to measure the impact Cosby's presence on the series had on young African American kids. However, I was in grade school when the show aired and the racial mix in the school was about 50/50. Suddenly, black kids finally had their own TV icon to admire and he was arguably the hippest of all the action stars of the era. Cos looked good in a tux, wooed pretty ladies and was an intrepid man of action.
We have obviously not viewed every one of the 82 episodes contained on the 18 DVDs in this set but a random look indicates the quality of the transfers is top notch. The series has also aged very well and, like the Bond movies, never seems out of date. Culp and Cosby still generate terrific chemistry together as well as with some of the big name guest stars who range from Don Rickles and Jim Brown to young Ron Howard. The only gripe is that one wishes there were at least a few bonus extras to point out the impact of the series and its significance in pop and societal culture. Image Entertainment had released a couple of special DVDs titled The Robert Culp Collection in which the actor provided commentary tracks. Those are not included here so you may want to hang on to them even if you add this irresistible new set to your DVD collection.
In a lifetime of reviewing movies, there have been some titles I generally try to avoid. With a few exceptions, Biblical epics aren't my thing, nor is anything with "Adam Sandler" above the title. One retro-based film I've tried studiously to avoid is "Ilsa: She Wolf of the S.S." I've got a pretty liberal attitude when it comes to watching distasteful movies, but the idea of blending Nazi concentration camp horrors with eroticism was too much. Nevertheless, there is no denying that the 1975 film, shot for $150,000 in sets left over from "Hogan's Heroes" (I kid you not!), was a boxoffice smash on the grindhouse circuit back in the day. Recently, I received a review DVD of the film from a company I won't identify, not only because the transfer was lousy but primarily because it apparently isn't available any longer. (The movie is now in the public domain and there are apparently a wide range of releases of varying quality). I decided to finally take the plunge and judge the film as objectively as I could. I've heard that there are very good transfers of the film on the market. Unfortunately, this isn't one of them. The plot centers on a Teutonic goddess named Ilsa, who is the de facto commandant of a Nazi prison camp. Her primary obsession is conducting gruesome medical experiments on inmates in order to prove a bizarre theory that women can withstand more pain than men. (Exactly what scientific value of such research would be is never explained, but real life Nazi quacks such as Dr. Josef Mengele did indeed conduct hideous experiments on helpless people.) As played by Dyanne Thorne, an Amazonian, blonde ex-show girl, Ilsa is indeed an imposing presence. She has the run of the camp and is feared by inmates and guards alike. Ilsa takes special delight in mixing sexual perversions with her daily grind. She has a loyal staff of female soldiers who parade around topless and excel at whipping and torturing female prisoners. Men receive special treatment. If Ilsa finds a male inmate attractive, she treats him to a night of passionate S&M sex, ironically with her playing the submissive role. Yet, there is a bit of a downside. The day after making love to Ilsa, these men are routinely castrated so that they can never have sex with another woman.
Ilsa meets her match when she meets a hunky prisoner named Wolfe (Gregory Knoph), who is cunning enough to make his services indispensable to Ilsa, while secretly organizing inmates to attempt to take over the camp. In the interim, viewers are treated to all sorts of depravities. If these were limited to sex, it would be bad enough (historically, sexual manipulation was indeed an everyday part of life in a concentration camp with certain female inmates allowed special treatment if they served in bordellos.). However, director Don Edmonds indulges in stomach turning sequences of men and women being systematically flogged and butchered under the most heinous circumstances imaginable. In one particularly awful sequence, a beautiful young woman has a noose tied around her neck and she is placed atop a block of melting ice so that she is slowly strangled to death. The fact that she is dying while standing atop a dinner table where Nazi officers dine and laugh in amusement make it almost unbearable to watch- precisely because such "creative" tortures were implemented in the camps.The film culminates in a limply-staged battle between guards and inmates in which the bad guys get their comeuppance.
There are legions of fans of this movie who argue it represents genuine eroticism. There are also legions of people who think it's cool to wear T shirts with Charles Manson's image on them. I can't understand either point of view. Yes, sexual fantasies are just that-fantasies. If you dream of being flogged by an Amazon woman, good for you. However, blending sexual fantasies with real life horror of the Holocaust makes me wonder how anyone can find this film a turn-on. The fact that it was released during an era when there were still millions of survivors of concentration camps still alive makes the subject matter all the more atrocious. There certainly is a place for artistic expression of sexual content in films that push the envelope. (The Night Porter comes to mind, but at least it was a quality film with an intelligent viewpoint beyond shameless exploitation.)
The film was so successful that it spawned two sequels, though they dropped the Nazi angle. I guess that says all we need to know about what passes for entertainment in some quarters.
I suppose there is an audience for anything and I don't argue the producers had every right to release and profit from this claptrap. You just have to wonder how anyone can derive sexual pleasure from seeing screaming women being disemboweled and hapless men being castrated. Call me old-fashioned, but I would personally rather watch "Hogan's Heroes."
Click here to view trailer and judge for yourself (Warning! X-rated and not for the squeamish.)
Click here to order Prime Time DVD (illustrated above) from Amazon, but please note: this is not the DVD we actually reviewed, though it is said to be of superior quality.
The latest grindhouse vintage porn double feature from Vinegar Syndrome is one of their best releases yet. "Sadie" is an unlikely 1980 hardcore "adaptation" of Somerset Maugham's classic story "Rain", though we doubt ol' Somerset ever envisioned the types of goings-on that occur in this film, directed by Bob Chinn, a prolific name in the industry who was born in Hawaii (please refrain from making the old joke "on the island of Kumoniwannaleiya") and went on to direct dozens of X rated feature length movies. Here the titular character is a blonde bombshell played by Chris Cassidy. Sadie is a prostitute living in Borneo and the action all takes place in a low-rent beachfront hotel here she plies her services and receives paternal loving care from the seedy owner of the resort. Sadie is in love with an American soldier on leave to Borneo but finds she can't leave the island because the local Raja insists that he "bought" her in Saigon and that she must become a member of his harem. Sadie is a moody young woman, prone to selfish and occasionally reckless behavior. Her stress level only increases when an Evangelical U.S. senator and his wife and teenage daughter check into the hotel. The senator has married his wife in order to make an "honest woman" of her because she had been unwed when she gave birth to her daughter. Since then the couple has led a chaste marriage, as the senator believes sex is the work of the devil. The daughter, who has just turned 18, has no such beliefs and her raging hormones can't stand the strain as she witnesses the unapologetic free love practiced by Sadie and her friends. Before long, she's joining in the action while Sadie tries to construct a plan to work with corrupt government officials to get out of the country with her lover.
"Sadie" is largely confined to a few rooms in the hotel and there are no exterior shots. Yet the film is somewhat ambitious and rises above standard porn because director Chinn has a degree of skill in presenting a reasonably compelling story. His leading lady fits the bill in terms of the erotic sequences but is weak dramatically. Unusually for this type of film, Chinn gives plenty of screen time to what appear to be accomplished middle-aged character actors who don't get involved in the down-and-dirty stuff. The film is all the better for it. Chinn also knows how to skillfully lens the sex scenes but never overdoes them. There are twosomes, threesomes and orgy scenes but there is plenty of time devoted to at least attempting to tell an engaging story.
Another Chinn film fills out the double feature, thus making this a genuine "Double Chinn" presentation. "The Seductress" is a 1981 film, that like "Sadie", is far more ambitious than standard grindhouse fare of the era. Porn superstar Lisa De Leeuw plays Cindy, a young wife married to Richard, a local commissioner on the Las Vegas fire commission board. He's a chauvinist boor who talks to her as though she is the hired help. She finds out about a "service" that blackmails spouses by having them seduced, then secretly photographed from behind a two-way mirror as they have their illicit liaisons in a hotel room. Cindy engages the service and sure enough, Richard goes for the bait and ends up in bed with Renee (Lee Carroll), who pretends she is also married and is nervous about having an affair. In reality, she is a heroin-addicted hooker. Cindy's plans go awry when Renee refuses to turn over the photos of her husband unless Cindy "fills in" for her at the next night's liaison. If she doesn't, Renee will blackmail her. Cindy reluctantly takes on the task and ends up in a foursome with a cynical hooker and two men, one of whom is also being set up for blackmail/divorce. The plot gets pretty confusing at times but Chinn elicits good performances by old pros De Leeuw and Carroll, though his luck runs out with much of the supporting cast, some of who read their lines as though they are in a school play. Nevertheless, the film boasts a good story line that involves organized crime and a conspiracy to manipulate who sits on the fire commission. The political intrigue aspect has a genuinely creative payoff in the last frames, as Chinn ties it in with real life news footage of the disaster 1981 Hilton Hotel fire in Vegas that was caused by arson.
The print quality of these two features is above average and Vinegar Syndrome has even gone to the effort of tracking down the original trailers for each film. Although both "Sadie" and "The Seductress" are hardcore films, these represent an early attempt to appeal to female viewers who, at the time, might have wanted to experience some X-rated fare without being totally grossed out. Both hold up well today and are probably more creative than the largely indistinguishable fare being made today.
Seven years after his blockbuster success producing the 1972 film The Poseidon Adventure, Irwin Allen revisited the same story for a sequel, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure. The 1979 film represents all the reasons that sequels to most hit films are generally disdained. Yes, there was The Godfather trilogy to buck the trend, but there were also those God-awful sequels to Jaws. Beyond the Poseidon Adventure opens the morning after the capsizing of the cruise ship. Michael Caine is Mike Turner, the financially destitute captain of a small vessel who is facing bankruptcy after losing his cargo in the same violent storm that destroyed The Poseidon. On board his boat are his first mate Wilbur (Karl Malden) and Celeste Whitman (Sally Field), a perky but klutzy young drifter the men have befriended. They stumble upon the capsized wreck of the Poseidon and Turner immediately smells financial opportunity in the tragedy. If he can make his way through the hull and down to the purser's office, he can raid the safe and abscond with the riches that are inevitably stored there. This is the first of any number of absurdities in the script. With the Poseidon the worst maritime disaster since the Titanic, Turner and his crew discover that, with the exception of one French copter that is conveniently leaving the scene upon their arrival, there is literally no other sign of the international rescue forces that would be omnipresent at the scene. Instead, after rescuing the few people who managed to make it onto the hull in the preceding film, those forces are in no hurry to get additional manpower to the scene in order to search for additional survivors before the ship sinks the bottom of the ocean. Inexplicably, while the rescue forces can't make a timely arrival at the scene, a small craft under the command of Captain Stefan Svevo (Telly Savalas) does. Svevo claims he is a doctor who is there with his crew to enter the ship and search for any survivors. (Absurdity #2: Svevo is about to undertake this arduous, grimy and potentially deadly task while attired in a snow white designer suit!). Turner buys his story and forms and uneasy alliance with Svevo and his team, who are also clad all in white and resemble some of those bands of henchmen from the old Batman TV series. Once inside the ship, movie magic takes over and the group finds every chamber to be brightly lit, thus making it possible to move about freely. True, there is the hazardous task of finding your way around an upside down vessel, but that problem is solved when they conveniently find a map that lays out precisely where everything is located. Soon, Turner discovers what even the most naive viewer has already realized: that Svevo is actually a villain with his own agenda. In the third major absurdity, we learn that the Poseidon was transporting plutonium that Svevo wants to acquire for nefarious purposes relating to bomb building. As if that isn't enough it turns out the ship was also transporting a huge shipment of assault weapons and stockpiles of ammunition. It's a wonder there was any room for those joyous conga lines to dance around on that fatal New Years Eve.
Since a hallmark of any Irwin Allen film is the presence of respected actors peppered throughout the production, it isn't long before familiar faces start popping up in every room, like those celebrities who used to stick their heads of windows and make wise-cracks on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Slim Pickens, in full scenery-chewing hayseed mode, comes stumbling out of nowhere, drunk and protecting a precious bottle of wine. He pretends to be a Texas tycoon but it turns out he was the ship's wine steward and regards the bottle of expensive vino as a life long dream to acquire the lifestyle that has always eluded him. Then there is Shirley Jones, who emerges and announces that she is a registered nurse, which is certainly more practical to the group than if she were a butcher by trade. Angela Cartwright is a young woman who was on the cruise with her father, a bull-headed Archie Bunker type played by an unusually over-the-top and embarrassing Peter Boyle. Every Allen film needs a sympathetic older couple to wring a few tears from blue-haired old ladies in the audience so this time we have Shirley Knight and Jack Warden substituting for the previous film's Shelly Winters and Jack Albertson. Allen throws in the kitchen sink by making Warden play a blind man. Not to be politically incorrect, but the sequences of Warden stumbling around the upside down wreck of the Poseidon with a cane and wearing sunglasses begins to resemble a Monty Python sketch. Then there is Veronica Hamel as the prerequisite "bad girl" who slinks around in a drenched evening gown showing ample cleavage- oh, and young Mark Harmon has a major role as a young hunk who finds love with Angela Cartwright in the bowels of the sinking ship. If that isn't enough, we learn that lovable ol' Karl Malden's character is terminally ill and the symptoms manifest themselves while he's holed up in the upside down ship. (Somehow Allen showed restraint by not introducing killer sharks to the mix.)
Irwin Allen had the good sense to have seasoned directors Ronald Neame and John Guillerman direct his two biggest blockbusters, The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno and they remain enormously entertaining films. However, he became convinced that he could save a few bucks by doing the job himself. Thus, the man known for making disaster movies became better known for the man who made disastrous movies. The first slip was The Swarm, a 1978 flapadoodle that we always refer to as the worst "Bee" movie of all time. The movie was a bomb but that didn't teach star Michael Caine and co-star Slim Pickins a darn thing, since they re-teamed with Allen right away for Beyond the Poseidon Adventure. (Many years later, Caine said he was ashamed of this period of his career when he took virtually any job in order to earn an easy pay check.) With Allen back in the director's chair, Beyond was destined to be another camp classic and it has the look and feel of a TV movie. Caine looks understandably embarrassed, Field is in Flying Nun cutesy mode and Savalas channels his inner Blofeld as the villain. Allen packs in everything from an ax murder (!) to a full blown shoot-out in which every day people turn out to be as adept at handling machine guns as Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos. There are some reasonably impressive sets on view but many of the special effects are sub-par. The most hilarious are found in the opening frames in which we see Caine at the helm of his storm-tossed boat in the midst of a hurricane. The sequence was apparently filmed with the ship on rockers and the violent rainstorm was simulated apparently by having some guy off camera spray garden hoses. It's quite possibly the cheesiest effect I've ever seen in a modern, major studio production.
The Warner Archive has released Beyond the Poseidon Adventure as a burn to order title. With the film itself a dud, there is at least the saving grace of an interesting bonus extra: a vintage 22 minute TV special about the making of the film. It affords some excellent behind the scenes views of the production and makes it clear that a lot of talented people put a great deal of work into creating films that often turn out badly. There are also some nice trailers for the main feature, The Swarm, Twister and The Perfect Storm.
Vinegar Syndrome has released another grindhouse double feature of '70s hardcore porn flicks. "The Altar of Lust" is a boring, snoozefest masquerading as erotica when, in fact, it is about as stimulating as an Amway party. Erica Landers (billed in the film credits as "Erotica Lantern" (!), plays Viveca Hansen, a nubile Dutch teenager who is brutally violated by her barbaric stepfather in the only rape sequence ever filmed that is more boring than offensive. She makes her way to New York where she confides her life story to a sympathetic psychiatrist. For whatever reason, the dialogue comes from superimposed voices from both characters that give the impression that the film was badly dubbed. Erotica Lantern doesn't live up to her name, even in an era when everyday women could become major porn stars. She is far from exotic looking and is adorned with a dime store fright wig that gives each one of her scenes an unintentionally funny overtone. The entire "story line" involves her inability to have a stable relationship with men. After being abused by her stepfather, she enters affairs with other men who verbally abuse her (including porn super star Harry Reems, who uses the screen name "Stan Freemont".) One night, she walks in on her boyfriend Don as he's getting it on with another girl. The other woman ends up seducing young Viveca, much to the amusement of Don. However, when the two get carried away with sapphic lovemaking, he realizes there's no room for him in this party and he angrily departs the scene. Henceforth, Viveca becomes obsessed with women, leading her to see the therapist to find out what is wrong with her. The only intriguing angle of the flick is to evoke a bygone era in which gay people were seen to be suffering from a mental disorder. At the end of the flick, Viveca is put back on track when her own psychiatrist gets it on with her, a plot device you can see coming from minute one. The film is unexceptional on every level and will disappoint fans of the genre because the majority of sex scenes are softcore. The transfer, however, is top notch, given that source material for such releases comes from the "take what you can get" school.
The second feature on the DVD is "Angel On Fire", a 1974 flick that attempts to capitalize on "The Devil in Miss Jones". The film opens without credits but Darby Lloyd Rains is the female lead and stalwart male performers Marc Stevens and Jamie Gillis have major roles. The first scene finds Steven, a young hunk, in bed having torrid sex with his adoring girlfriend. However, when she informs him she is pregnant with his child, he verbally abuses her and abandons her without a second thought. He is a lifelong chauvinist who treats women as sex objects and nothing more. He is ultimately struck by a van and killed by driver (Stevens), who has been distracted by the fact that his girlfriend had been performing a sex act on him while they were cruising the streets of Manhattan. Steven finds himself in Heaven and in the presence of a comely female angel who tells him his fate: he is to be sent back to earth, this time as a female. Steven is "reborn" as a good look young woman named Stephanie (Darby Lloyd Rains) who is as sex crazed as his male alter-ego was. Before long, she enters a relationship with an arrogant man (Jamie Gillis), who treats her every bit as callously as he treated his own girlfriend. Speaking of whom, that woman reappears at his apartment and doesn't seem to be overly-startled by the revelation that her former lover has been reincarnated as a woman. In fact, the two get down to serious canoodling right away for the film's primary prerequisite lesbian sequence. As her dependence on her new boyfriend grows, Stephanie finds herself serving as a virtual sex slave to her deplorable lover- and her devotion only increases the more he abuses her. Finally, she discovers she is pregnant- and he abandons her as callously as he once abandoned his own lover. Stephanie is so heartbroken the she begs to die and - Presto! She is back in Heaven as Steven. He tells his angel guardian that he has learned an important life lesson about respecting women. For this, he is informed that in Heaven, sex is frequent and guilt free. She rewards him for recognizing his flaws and correcting them and the two start getting it on. ("If this cloud is a rockin', don't come a knockin'", you might say.) As The Temptations pointed out, everyone's doing fine on Cloud Nine. Angel on Fire is crudely made and suffers from an insufferable performance by Rains. Beyond that, however, it is far superior to "The Altar of Lust" and contains some genuinely erotic sequences. The flick also looks like it went through a meat grinder, with numerous blotches and edits apparent. As with previous Vinegar Syndrome releases, however, this only adds to its appeal.
Click here to watch a preview clips from the double feature.
Criterion has release a deluxe Blu-ray edition of director Peter Brook's 1963 screen adaptation of William Golding's landmark novel Lord of the Flies. As virtually anyone familiar with literature of the latter half of the twentieth century probably knows, the story involves a group of British schoolboys who are among the refugees deported from England out the outbreak of what is, presumably, a third world war. Their plane is shot down over the ocean but it crashes off shore from a remote island. All of the adults die but the boys miraculously survive and make their way to dry land. Realizing their survival is in their own hands, the boys (the age of whom ranges from pre-pubescent to early teens) set about the task of building shelters. They quickly master the essentials of staying alive and learn to start fires and to hunt and fish with reasonably effective hand-made tools. Inevitably, the fragments of a society begin to coalesce but there is stark contrast in philosophies. Jack (Tom Chapin) is an assertive, take-charge older boy who quickly learns he can use his aggressive personality traits to rise to a leadership position. Jack proves his worth by quickly going native and relishing the opportunity to play king. His skills are essential when it comes to providing food for the group. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Ralph (James Aubrey), a sensitive and thoughtful boy who rivals Jack as leader of the group based on his intellectual superiority. When the rivalry becomes heated, Jack and his numerically superior group of followers resort to violent methods to suppress Ralph and his friend Piggy (Hugh Edwards), a pudgy and harmless boy who must indulge many degrading insults and taunts. The resulting battle of wills leads to numerous tragedies and a conclusion that finds Ralph alone and being hunted down by his former schoolmates, who intend to kill him.
It's clear that Golding intended to use this scenario as a microcosm for society in general. He initially regarded himself as an optimist regarding human nature but that changed during his service in WWII, when he witnessed behavior that he thought was so horrendous that he became convinced that evil is far more prevalent in the world than he had suspected. That cynicism is carried over into the film, which is such a literate version of the novel that no one is credited as a screenwriter. Director Brook would assemble his cast of young boys (none of whom had any acting experience) and read passages and dialogue from the novel prior to filming each scene. The technique worked remarkably well. Brook's shoestring budget of $300,000 was cut in half after his ill-fated, short-term alliance with famed producer Sam Spiegel, who began to make significant changes to the production in the hopes of making it more commercial. When he insisted on adding a group of young girls to the mix, Brook ended their partnership but had to pay Spiegel half of his meager budget to cover expenses he had never even authorized. Left with only $150,000 in the coffers, Brook (who is primarily known as an acclaimed director of avant-garde theatrical productions) managed to get everyone to the island of Vieques off the coast of Puerto Rico, where most of the footage was shot. Brook could not afford a seasoned cinematographer so gambled on hiring a local still photographer, Tom Hollyman, whose work on the film is simply remarkable (though he would never make another motion picture). Hollyman's footage was supplemented by footage taken by Gerald Feil, who was given a hand-held camera and told to shoot anything he found interesting. The result is a superb compilation of both men's accomplishments. The movie was shot in B&W for budgetary reasons but it also worked beneficially in terms of the impact of this stark, bleak tale. Raymond Leppard's brilliant score combines British schoolboy songs with ominous jungle themes. It must be pointed out that, despite the impressive performances of the young cast members, only one- James Aubrey- decided to gravitate into acting as a profession. The real hero, however, is Brook himself, whose exercise in the ultimate "guerrilla movie making" still stands the test of time as a powerful and fascinating film.
Criterion's special Blu-ray release does justice to the movie on every level beginning with a superb transfer that emphasizes the glorious cinematography. The extras in the set are:
Audio commentary track featuring Peter Brook, producer Lewis Allen, cinematographers Tom Hollyman and Gerald Feil
Audio of William Golding reading excerpts from the book, accompanied by scenes from the film
Deleted scene with optional commentary track
Insightful interview with Brook from 2008 (in which he pointedly says he never made a commercial movie because he refused to compromise with the studios in terms of his artistic vision)
Wonderful home movies taken by the young cast members.
1980 British TV interview with William Golding (one of the few he ever gave)
A new interview with cinematographer Gerald Feil
The original trailer
Feil's 1975 short film documenting Peter Brook rehearsing cast members in Brooklyn for one of his off-beat productions. For those of us who do not "tread the boards" for a living, the rehearsals seem bizarre and resemble an exercise class more than an acting rehearsal. Some of it is unintentionally funny: the kind of pretentious scenario that is often spoofed by Woody Allen, with actors chanting and seeming to run about without rhyme or reason. Yet, who are we to argue? Brook's reputation as a major theatrical director remains firmly intact.
A collector's booklet featuring essays by Peter Brook and film critic Geoffrey Macnab
In summary, the Criterion release of Lord of the Flies is essential viewing for classic movie lovers.
When it comes to documentaries about the American Civil War, it's pretty much acknowledged that the gold standard was set with Ken Burns' acclaimed 1990 PBS series. However, it would be a mistake to dismiss other filmmaker's take on the conflict. One of the most impressive documentaries we've seen is producer, director and writer Chris Wheeler's "Civil War: The Untold Story", a five-episode series presented on two DVDs through Athena Home Video. The series is impressive on every level and rivals Burns' film in terms of educating viewers and providing emotional impact. Whereas Burns relied entirely on photographs of the period and location photography, Wheeler delves into the risky realm of using re-enactments of famous battles. If such sequences are not up to par, the effect can look cheesy and distracting. However, in "Civil War: The Untold Story", Wheeler was obviously working with a very substantial production budget. The battle sequences are meticulously staged and take on the feel of an epic, often evoking the grandeur of the big screen feature film "Gettysburg". The title is a bit misleading. There really isn't much here that has been "untold" but there is plenty that has not been covered in the detail Wheeler goes into. The series begins with a look at the plight of black slaves in the old South and poignantly shows the horror of their living conditions. The show then delves into the complex socioeconomic and political factors that brought about secession and the start of the war in 1861. As with most such series, this one is peppered with plenty of scholarly talking heads, each of whom adds immeasurably to one's understanding of the conflict. I did learn a great deal from the show, including how some famous generals were known to have made enormous military blunders such as ordering frontal assaults on embedded enemy positions, thus resulting in mass casualties. Wheeler's literate script also details how fragile American democracy was by 1864. With President Lincoln's popularity at its lowest point, war-weary northerners were more than willing to make peace with the south. In fact, Lincoln suffered the humiliation of having one of his former top generals, McClelland, nominated to be his Democratic opponent in the election. Violent and deadly riots had already torn apart New York City in protest of the draft. Lincoln had to pull off a major victory or America, as we know it, would have been confined to the dustbin of history. In fact, democracy itself as a form of government would have been doomed. Although we know the outcome of all this, Wheeler skillfully builds these crisis to the point of considerable suspense. He also manages to tell the story of the war through focusing on individual soldiers from both sides as well as freed slaves who found emancipation to be a crisis in and of itself. Where did these poor souls go? With no education, money or support structure, many ex-slaves traded one hellish life for another. Wheeler also points out the the legacy of the Civil War still permeates North/South relationships today. Indeed, even some elected officials call the conflict "The War of Northern Aggression".
The series, wonderfully narrated by Elizabeth McGovern, is completely addictive and you'll find yourself on a viewing binge, looking forward to each successive episode. The only downside is that one would have hoped that Athena had included an interview with Chris Wheeler about the making of this remarkable show. The only extras are some silent WWI-era newsreels that show fascinating footage of Civil War veterans from both sides attending "Peace Jubilees". It's truly surprising how many thousands of these veterans were still alive and well in the era of the automobile. The set also includes an instructional booklet of historical biographies and facts.
"Superb" is not a word one throws around casually but "Civil War: The Untold Story" is a superb achievement.
It’s hard to say
why the brain trust at Troma decided to release Dangerous Obsession on DVD this
year.Perhaps someone thought the
Esquire network’s recent re-airing of the old HBO Dream On series would create
interest in Brian Benben, who stars in this film (originally called Mortal Sins)
as Nathan Weinschenk, a brash private investigator from New York who gets
involved in a complex murder case involving some transplanted Southern religious
zealots. But even if there is a sudden renewed interest in the Benben catalog,
it’s difficult to imagine that even the most devoted Benben completists would
derive any pleasure from this cheaply made 1989 flick with its clichés and hack
dialogue. I can’t even label this one as
decent 1980’s kitsch.
Reverend Park Sung (James Saito) is murdered in his Manhattan apartment,
Weinschenk is hired by rival evangelist Malcolm Rollins’ (James Harper) who
wants to protect his own Manhattan church (‘The Divine Church of the People’).
Weinschenk also ends up protecting Rollins’ lovely daughter (Debrah Farentino),
which adds a little steam to the proceedings. The daughter, you see, has a
complicated sex life, as most women in movies did back in the late 1980s,
whether or not they knew Mickey Rourke or Michael Douglas.
the humor of being a Jew in a nest of bible-thumping Southern vipers. True, the
idea of Southern-fried televangelists setting up shop in Manhattan may have
sounded edgy at the time (this was the 1980s, remember, when Jimmy Swaggart and
Jim Bakker were involved in serious scandals, and TV preachers had become
popular punching bags), but the film is played out in such broad strokes that
any good ideas are quickly crushed by cartoonish acting. Weinschenk, for
instance, has the stereotypical Jewish parents who are oblivious to anything
outside their little household. He also shares
his office with a no-account male relative (I couldn’t tell if they were
brothers or cousins) and there’s even a running gag where the Southern folks
can’t pronounce his name.
the Jewish stereotypes aren’t enough, we also get a lot of TV private eye
clichés. As if he’s auditioning for a role in a network cop show, Weinschenk drives a classic 1950s car, and listens
to classic R&B (I’ll give some points to this movie for including a cut of
Jackie Wilson’s ‘No Pity In the Naked City’). He also thinks he’s a real wiseass,
although his level of wit is restricted to lines like, “Nice work if you can
get it.” Benben curses a lot, too, and
while he can drop the F-bombs with convincing venom, he’s still stuck with playing
a wooden character. The Southern stereotypes are pretty thick, too. The Southerners are all portrayed as bloated,
effete, Jerry Falwell types, speaking in
exaggerated, syrupy drawls; if you told me they were all stoned on Quaaludes
during filming, I’d believe you. The perfectly named Brick Hartney has some success
as the slimy Billy Beau Backus, playing his part like a community theater star
vamping for his friends in the front row. Proving that some people know how to get
out while they’re on top, Hartney never acted in films again.
are plenty of extras here, but none are about Dangerous Obsession. The extras are
solely Troma related, including vintage trailers for The Toxic Avenger, Return
to Nuke ‘Em High: Vol. 1, Badmouth, Poultrygeist, and Cars3, plus a snippet of
a Troma documentary called How To Sell Your Own Damn Movie, featuring filmmaker
James Gunn discussing the dubious wonders of social media.
For those who enjoy
spotting character actors early in their careers, you’ll find a surprising
number of them in Dangerous Obsession. Anthony LaPaglia has a small role, as
does Maggie Wheeler, who went on to recurring roles on Friends, Ellen, and
Everybody Loves Raymond. Anyone who has
watched TV during the past 25 years will also recognize Peter Onorati, who has
made a career out of playing guys named Angelo or Sal. Director Yuri Sivo and screenwriter Allen
Blumberg have worked infrequently since 1989 – Blumberg has directed a couple
of small projects, with Sivo’s highpoint being a couple episodes of the Swamp
Thing TV series.
the plus side, Dangerous Obsession is visually striking, with a sophisticated
use of shadows and silhouettes. That’s no surprise since it was shot by underrated
veteran Bobby Bukowski, whose recent work includes two excellent titles, The
Messenger (2009) and, what is perhaps my favorite movie of the past few years,
The Iceman (2012). Even while strapped
to a no-budget howler like Dangerous Obsession, Bukowski shows the immense
talent that would make him one of the most reliable and sought after cinematographers
of the past two decades. (Hell, he even shot Shakes the Clown!) In fact, I’d only recommend this DVD to those
who want to marvel at how a ham-handed script made on an Ed Wood budget can
feature so many lollipops for the eye. Even the final shot is superb, with Weinschenk and his girlfriend
arguing on a fire escape, the camera pulling back and wheeling around to reveal
a lush New York skyline at what must have been the so-called magic hour. The idea that the evil Southerners are gone
and the New Yorkers can get back to arguing among themselves is trite, but
Bukowski shoots it like he’s practicing for his future.